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J. Allen Kirk
A Statement of Facts Concerning the Bloody Riot in Wilmington, N.C. Of Interest to Every Citizen of the United States
[Wilmington?, N. C.: The Author?, 1898?].

Summary

The Wilmington race riots took place on November 10, 1898. On this day, a white militia, headed by Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, a local Democratic leader, burned the office of Wilmington's black newspaper, the Daily Record, and generally wreaked havoc in black neighborhoods. By the end of the week, at least fourteen black citizens were dead, and much of the city's black leadership had been banished. The Wilmington massacre spurred on the statewide disfranchisement campaign to crush African American political participation. Contemporary white chronicles of the event directly and indirectly blamed the black community for the violence and exonerated white actions as an unfortunate, but necessary, step toward racial and political reform. African American writers such as David Bryant Fulton, [pseud.] Jack Thorne (Hanover, 1901), and Charles W. Chesnutt (The Marrow of Tradition, 1901) countered this view with thinly fictionalized accounts that were sympathetic to the black community.

J. Allen Kirk's "A Statement of Facts Concerning the Bloody Riot in Wilmington, N.C. Of Interest to Every Citizen of the United States" seeks to "impartially" recount the event for both white and black audiences (p.1). Kirk begins his account by describing the Interdenominational Ministerial Union's efforts to encourage black subscriptions to the Daily Record, which was suffering financially from its white advertisers' boycott after its editor, Alexander Manly, refused to retract statements he printed in response to a racist article written by a white woman. According to Kirk, the ministers wished neither to advocate nor denounce Manly's views; rather, they hoped merely to save the Record, which was Wilmington's only black daily newspaper and which claimed to be "The Only Negro Daily in the World." The white leaders, however, viewed this position as being supportive of Manly, and the editor of the white newspaper, The Wilmington Messenger, condemned the group and called on white ministers to preach inflammatory sermons to motivate Wilmington's white citizens the following Sunday, the Sunday before the riot.

Wilmington's black citizens were somewhat relieved by dispatches from the Republican and Fusion parties ensuring fair and safe elections and urging black citizens to vote. Yet Kirk indicates that a white mob was already gathering on election night and that some black voters left polling places at gunpoint. Indeed, the next day, a committee of prominent white citizens, led by Waddell, issued a call for Manly's expulsion from Wilmington as well as the resignations of the mayor and the chief of police. They also demanded that the Record be closed and its press be shipped out of town. The ministers, Kirk among them, were also expelled.

For the remainder of the statement, Kirk, referring to himself almost exclusively in the third person, outlines his account of the massacre in hopes that he might "prevent exaggerated stories from being heaped upon the community or upon the country" (p. 8). He describes hiding with his family in the African American cemetery outside of town, hearing about the burning of the Record office and watching a mob of white men escort white women and children to safety while black citizens were fleeing to the swamps or woods to avoid being killed in the streets. Even as late as the following Sunday, the mob still searched for missing black leaders, including Kirk, who was eventually forced to leave his family behind and flee North Carolina.

Kirk closes his statement by asking African Americans to work to maintain the peace and to trust God's will rather than seek violent retribution for the massacre. He also points out that the mob drove "the better class of the colored citizens" from Wilmington, thereby proving that is was not law and order that the white leaders sought, but economic domination (p. 16).

Works Consulted: Leon H. Prather, We Have Taken a City: Wilmington Racial Massacre and Coup of 1898 (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984). An excellent symposium on the Wilmington violence and its legacies is David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson eds., Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and its Legacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). In addition to the two items included in "The North Carolina Experience," the North Carolina Collection has several other contemporary accounts of the 1898 events, including a run of the white Wilmington Messenger and Alex Manly's Daily Record. Finally, the Southern Historical Collection houses the papers of Alfred Moore Waddell, leader of the coup, and Thomas W. Clawson, editor of the Wilmington Record at the time of the violence.

Michael Sistrom

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