Rising Tensions Battling Bigotry

African Americans had made significant gains since the Civil War in politics and economics statewide. By the 1890s, the state General Assembly hosted as many as 10 black legislators. Representative George H. White, of Craven County, was elected to the U.S. Congress. Numerous cities, including New Bern, Greenville, Raleigh, and Wilmington, had elected African Americans to local posts as well. These gains reflected a growing middle class in the Wilmington African American community, as pictured in this photo gallery. Given these improvements, African Americans used creative ways to battle deep-seated bigotries. The state Superintendent of Schools Annual Report of 1891 demonstrates in this three-page passage the degree of racial animosity and beliefs about racial inferiority among whites. The November 30, 1889 report (scroll to page 157) of Captain J. E. Wood to the state legislature reveals the heightened fears of violence during the state’s execution of Matthew Banks for a rape conviction. State legislator W. Lee Person of Edgecombe county filed this 1897 anti-lynching bill in the state Senate to force the state to investigate mob violence. While the bill failed to pass, many African Americans voted with their feet. Fed up with discrimination and poor treatment by white farmers, African American laborers left the state for better opportunities in western states and territories. When white farmers tried to pass legislation to force the emigrants, known as “Exodusters,” to remain in the state, African Americans complained bitterly, as shown in these resolutions entitled “To The Colored People of Wayne County,” (scroll to Document A) about the discriminatory factors that they faced. How does the Superintendent of Schools view the role of education in the lives of African Americans? How do violence and the fear of violence reinforce these assumptions? How do African Americans resist these assumptions in their claims to citizenship and workers’ rights?