Remembering The Wilmington Insurrection during this Juneteenth anniversary

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 9:45 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WBTV) - Surviving abject bondage became an undesired hardship endured by far too many African Americans, but in Wilmington, North Carolina more deliberate racist pain was dished out to former slaves’ decades after emancipation.

William Evans is a lifelong member of Wilmington’s New Saint Luke AME Zion.

“You live through it. You understand it. So there’s always gonna be that hurt and pain.”

Community activist Inez Eason remains perplexed over Wilmington’s shrinking Black population.

She’s observed, “We went from 60 percent to 40 percent, 20 percent, and now we are down to 12 percent.”

Having a solid population base late in the 19th century, rewarded Black voters with seats at the table in local government.

Historian Jan Davidson at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science says a strong voting block ushered in a multi-racial government.

“African American men got the right to vote and that really transformed this region,” Davidson told WBTV. “Now there was never a Negro majority or this Black rule that these white supremacists were afraid of.”

However, fear was ignited by a war of printed words.

Josephus Daniels who published the Raleigh News and Observer stood staunchly on the side of white supremacy.

Opposing Daniel’s position was Black Newspaper owner Alex Manly of the African American based Wilmington Daily Record.

An explosive tipping point came over a series of far reaching articles connected to interracial romances.

Understanding what unfolded at our nation’s capital back on January 6 gives present day context to the events of November 10, 1898 at Wilmington’s city hall.

“This was not a riot. It was a massacre, it was a coup it was an insurrection that it was planned, it was organized,” Eason said. “They were already plotting the insurrection and they were stockpiling weapons.

Ex-confederates and members of the democratic party, known as the red shirts, stormed Wilmington’s city hall.

They forced the mayor, and council which included African American members to all resign.

“You have to look at the significance of what took place. And this to me is that candle that stayed burning, even though they were trying to extinguish it,” Evans said.

Torched was the building that housed Manly’s newspaper.

Like the violent Tulsa uprising that unfolded 100 years ago this month, African Americans were shot dead in the streets of Wilmington, which included former slaves.

No one was ever charged, and there’s never been an accurate count of the fatalities.

“My great great-grandfather. His name was Isom quake. He was born in, uh, 1843,” Eason said, “He was a charter member of the Black owned bank. He also was entrepreneurial as far as he had a wood and coal dealership.”

The deadly violence forced Isom Quick to leave town, and that was also the case with newspaperman Alex Manly who’s, presence is prominently noted with a state issued placard on a downtown street.

His name is one of several acknowledgements connected to what happened in Wilmington during the 19th century.

Renewed attention came through a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

It provided funds for Cedric Harrison who heads up an initiative called Support the Port.

Harrison’s publications bring attention to the insurrection.

We’re just starting to scratch the surface of really learning what actually really happened here, just on a local level.

Learning also comes by visiting the site of what was Alex Manly’s newspaper.

It’s been reduced to a parking lot now used by its next-door neighbor

New Saint Luke AME Zion which came into existence not long after the civil war.

Despite the pain, long time church member William Evans understands the importance of holding on to meaningful events: “So you stay in the community. You rebuild the community. You don’t forget your past.”

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