Legacy Making Amends

In 1998, local community members met to discuss the legacy of the 1898 riot in Wilmington. Local historian and businessman Kenny Davis helped to found the 1898 Centennial Foundation. The groups objective: to discuss the “undercurrents” of problems in present-day Wilmington. These meetings culminated in an interracial conference in Wilmington in 1998. How, they asked, should present-day Wilmington residents initiate reconciliation for the 1898 violence? Historian and commission member Dr. Melton McLaurin has his say. In 1996, residents of Wilmington established the 1898 Centennial Foundation to raise awareness of the economic and political legacies of the 1898 massacre and coup.

The outcome of these discussions resulted in a state legislative mandate to form a commission, the North Carolina 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, to research and report on the 1898 massacre and its legacy. This 2005 report, written by state researcher LeRae Umfleet, argues that white supremacists across the state conspired the 1898 riot and coup d’etat. Across the state, widespread racial disfranchisement and segregation followed the coup d'etat. The State Commission published these final recommendations to make amends for the riot.

On December 17, 2005, the Raleigh News and Observer expressed an editorial of “regret” for the newspaper’s role in the white supremacist campaign. Later, the News and Observer published “The Ghosts of 1898,” a special report by Duke Professor Timothy B. Tyson.

The outcome of these recommendations remains unclear, as the commission’s findings continue to generate controversy. The 1898 Wilmington Institute for Education and Research vigorously opposes any argument that a coup d’etat occurred in Wilmington, and instead sees the violence as “the result of years of political and racial tensions fomented by opportunists” to acquire political control of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

On June 1, 2007, the News and Observer published this article, “Effort to acknowledge 1898 riot heads for oblivion.” ,”)

In 2008, the 1898 Foundation commissioned a memorial, sculpted by artist Ayokunle Odeleye. The memorial stands at Davis and North Third Streets at Memorial Park in Wilmington.

According to Davis, what are the chief concerns of the 1898 Centennial Foundation? How do the Centennial Foundation members in 1998 (interview) and again in 2001 (audio) wrestle with the question of reconciliation and compensation for property confiscated from that period? How does the State Commission recommendations compare to the original objectives of the Centennial Foundation? Why do you think the State has failed to acknowledge the Commission’s findings for the 1898 riot?