Friday, November 10, 2023

Wilmington Insurrection -- November 10, 2023

Washington Evening Star, 10-November-1898

125 years ago today, on 10-November-1898, white supremacists in Wilmington North Carolina staged a coup. They banished the mayor, the chief of police and other officials. They destroyed and burned the offices of an African-America owned newspaper. They killed or drove away a significant part of the town's African-American majority. Early reports blamed the African-Americans. 

Serious Rioting at
Wilmington Today.
Several White Citizens Were
Committee of Safety to Take
Control of City.

Special From a Staff Correspondent.
WILMINGTON. N. C., November 10. --
Events have moved quickly in Wilmington this morning, and the white people have made good their threats to take vengeance upon the negro newspaper which published the editorial derogatory to while women. At 7:30 o'clock this morning, the negroes not having responded to the demand for the removal of the press of the Record, Col. Waddell, the chairman of ihe white committee of twenty-five, repaired to the Light Infantry armory, where he was to meet the citizens by appointment. Eight o'clock was the last hour of grace for the negroes to reply. and that hour passed without an answer being received. The citizens then waited half an hour for reinforcements.

In ihe meantime armed men had begun to gather in the wide street in front of the armory. They carried rifles and riot guns, nearly every man with a cartridge belt around his waist filled with ammunition.

The assemblage included some of the most solid citizens of the town. At 8:30 o'clock the word was given to fall in, and the men formed in line of fours. Ex-Representative Waddell and members of the committee of twenty-five headed the procession, which moved eastward on Market street in the direction of 7th and Nunn streets, where the printing shop was located. All along the line of march the procession was joined by citizens who hurried from the side streets, bringing their guns. When the negro quarter was reached, the negroes could be seen a few blocks away, running into their houses. The negro women and children watched the marchers from their porches, but few negro men were seen.

Halt at Record Office.

Arriving in front of the publishing house, which is a two-story frame building, the marchers halted and picket lines were thrown out across the street in both directions and squads of men were sent to squares in the neighborhood. Col. Waddell, as the leader in the movement, advanced to the door of the building, his rifle on his shoulder, and knocked. There was no response, and, after waiting a minute or two, the door was burst open. The citizens surged into the place and began the work of destruction. The furniture was smashed and thrown into the street, amidst the cheers of the onlookers. Both floors were gutted of movables, and then a curl of blue smoke wound its way out of the windows and floated away on the light breeze. The building had been fired.

Some of the crowd cheered and others uttered expressions of regret that fire had been used. In a few minutes the inflammable structure was in a blaze and threatening the light wooden buildings adjacent. A fire-alarm box was on the corner and someone turned in the alarm. There was a wait of several minutes, during which the fire had gained good headway, and the whole structure was a sea of red fire beneath a dense pall of black smoke.

As the fire engine dashed down 7th street, with clanging bells, the crowd discharged their weapons in the air, and a fusillade of gun and pistol shots, cheers and shouts filled the air. The little children in a new free school house on the corner, who had been frightened by the fire and the guns, added their frantlc screams of terror to the babel, while the negro women were rushing about in search of their little ones. The affair was soon over, and no one was hurt. The publishing house was destroyed, but the neighboring property was saved. The editor, Manly, his brother and their associates have fled, and could not be found by the citizens.

Sequel of Yesterday's Meeting.

Today's action was the sequel of yesterday morning's meeting at the county court house and of a meeting of the committee of twenty-five yesterday afternoon. At that meeting it was decided to send runners to bring in thirty of the most prominent negroes to receive the verdict of the citizens. About fifteen came in at 6 o'clock and Colonel Waddell presented the ultimatum.

It was that an answer shauld be given him at 7:30 this morning whether the press would be removed and publication of the paper suspended. No discussion of the situation was permitted, but the negroes were told to act promptly on the lines laid down or suffer the consequences. They departed and one of their number -- Henderson, a lawyer -- said he thought the demands would be met favorably.

Last night was an anxious one for the citizens in the residence section. About 8 o'clock a street car came into the business section and reported that negroes had fired into it and that the passengers had returned the fire. In less than three minutes another car, loaded with armed men, was speeding to the scene of the trouble, and messengers had been scattered to give the alarm. The offenders escaped, and there was no more trouble; but the entire eastern end of the town was aroused.

I went through the section and found armed men on every corner, with patrols on the dark streets, and armed guards on the street cars. The ladies and children were on the verandas, and every house was alight, while every one wanted to know if the negroes were up. I then went over into the negro district -- to the center of it.

I found a group of thirty or forty young negroes assembled, but they were not armed and not violent. Passing on to the printing house, which was destroyed today, it was found to be deserted and dark. Talking with some of the older negroes of the quarter, they told me that they did not contemplate trouble; that their women and children were taking to the woods and that they sincerely hoped for peace. All night long the whites kept guard about the business and resident sections, but no incident occurred to disturb the night.

Return to the Armory.

After destroying the printing house the marchers returned to the armory, where they had left a rapid-fire machine gun mounted in a wagon, ready to be dispatched to the scene if a battle should occur.

Upon an occasion several months ago the negroes had massed in front of this office to prevent the threatened expulsion of its editor, and it was not known today whether they would offer resistance or not; but no resistance was offered and not a negro raised his hand or voice to protest. Those in the immediate vicinity of the burning structure packed up their furniture to move out. but no one molested them.

The leaders of the expedition say that it was not intended to burn the building, as there was a negro church on one side and light frame dwellings on the other. They say the fire was the work of rash men or an accident, and was not set with the concurrence of the committee of twenty-five.

The next move on the board is to ask the mayor and chief of police to resign, in accordance with the suggestion of yesterday's mass meeting. This action will be taken during the day.

At 10:30 o'clock the scene of excitement shifted to another section of the city. Scarcely had the marchers disbanded at the armory before the word passed along that the negro laborers of the great cotton compress, 300 cr 400 in number, who were engaged in compressing cargoes of cotton for several foreign steamships, had knocked off work and were assembling. The armed men hurried to the river front and took positions at the head of the streets leading down to the docks. The negroes were gathered in groups of fifteen or twenty, huddled together and apparently very frightened. Their wives had run to them reporting that the whites were burning the negro quarters and shooting, and begged them to come home, so the whole force quit work. The leaders told the negroes that no harm was intended them, and advised them to return to work, but they were thoroughly frightened.

The negroes freely expressed themselves, saying that they were hard-working men and that the whites ought not to stir them up and terrorize them in that way.

Panic Among the Negroes.

Within an hour the negroes were in such a state of panic and fear that some of the more conservative citizens thought best to try to calm them. Colonel Sprunt, the owner of the cotton compress, took one of the boss laborers in his buggy and drove him around town to show him that no harm was intended to the negroes. They seemed to have the idea that the whites were burning and murdering all tnrough their quarter, and were afraid to go back to work. There was not the least move of aggression on the part of the negroes. There was no violent talk or threats in the gatherings on the river front, but, after a while, the negroes worked themselves into a state of mind where they believed they were to be sacrificed to some racial cause, and said they were ready to go if they had to.

In all this disturbance the local authorities have made no show of asserting themselves. Not a policeman is around, and the mayor and chief of police are keeping out of sight. The preservation of order is practically vested in the committee ot twenty live, and they are now trying to quiet the situation and to hold in check the reckless element among the whites, which would go to any length. The saloons are to be closed. The rapid-fire machine gun, on a wagon, drawn by two horses, and manned by a crew, armed with Winchesters, was brought down in front of the post office, but on advice of the leaders was halted there.

The Killing Begins.

Soon after 11 o'clock word was brought that reinforcements were needed at 4th and Harnett streets, in the negro section of Brooklyn. The men were sent. Twenty minutes later the news was brougnt that there had been a collision between the whites and blacks, and that two negroes had been killed, one wounded and two white men wounded. More men have gone to the scene witn the rapid-fire gun.

Three unknown negroes are lying dead in the middle of the street at 4th and Harnett. One white man, name unknown, wounded in shoulder, and another white man, William Mayo, shot in stomach, will probably die. The negroes retreated after the firing, and the whites are holding position at 4th and Harnett, while reinforcements have been sent for. Conflicting stories are told of the starting of the trouble and as to who was the aggressor. One account is that the negroes were quarreling among themselves, and the whites interfered to disperse them. Another that the negroes impeded the street car and were ordered by a policeman to disperse, and, upon refusing, were fired upon. The scene of the trouble is in the worst negro district, about a mile from the business section.

The negro dead will probably number four. The white man Mayo has died. The situation is quiet at the scene of the trouble now. The negroes have gone into their houses. Squads of men are now halting all negroes on the street and taking their pistols from them whenever found.

Trains Bringing Reinforcements.

Special trains are being run into Wilmington from other towns with reinforcements or arms. Goldsboro has started 500 men. Laurinburg has started 150 and other towns have offered help if needed. The Light Infantry, a regular state militia organization, will probably take command of the situation here and its officers direct the patrolling and guarding of the city. I understand the governor has given his sanction to this plan, and if it is carried out will be salutory.

The local detachment of United States naval reserves, in fatigue uniform and dragging their new 1-pounder rapid-fire gun, are now at the scene of the trouble, together with the Light Infantry and several hundred armed citizens. But there is nothing to shoot at, the negroes having disappeared.

The committee of twenty-five went into session about 1 o'clock to devise means of preserving order. Several propositions were put forward, but the plan which seems to meet with most favor is the appointment of a committee of safety, to consist of six or ten men, who will have supreme charge of the city, superseding the mayor and all others. These men would comprise the most conservative citizens. The realization is now dawning upon the community that the reckless white man is as much a source of danger as the negro to the peace of Wilmington, if not more so.

Efforts will be made to hold the reckless in check. The reinforcements sent from Goldsboro' have been turned back after consultation. All was quiet on the firing line at 1:30 o'clock.

Eight Negroes Killed.

Between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock there were several skirmishes. The total casualties at 2 o'clock were: Eight negroes killed, two wounded. Three white men wounded -- Mayo, Chadwick and Piner. Mayo not dead, but shot through the lungs. About 1:30 o'clock p.m. two white men passing a house were fired upon. A detachment immediately surrounded the house and took away five negroes. It was at first proposed to kill them on the spot, but finally decided to put them in jail. Another negro in the house broke and ran, but after proceeding half a square was shot dead. The negro who shot Mayo was recognized, it was claimed, and a detachment found him at his house. He was riddled and left dead.

Letter Came Too Late.

Colonel Waddell, chairman of the committee of twenty-five, received at noon today the following letter:
"We, the colored citizens to whom was referred the matter of the expulsion from this community of the person and press of A. L. Manly, beg most respectfully to say that we are in no wise responsible for, nor in any manner condone the obnoxious article that called forth your actions. Neither are we authorized to act for him in this matter; but in the interest of peace we will most willingly use our influence to have your wishes carried out.
"Very respectfully,

This letter, instead of being delivered in person to Col. Waddell at 7:30 this morning as required, was placed in the mail, and did not reach him until after the printing office had been destroyed. The negro to whom it was intrusted for delivery put it in the post office and wrote on the envelope "Please deliver at residence," but he did not get it in time. N. O. M.

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