1898 Many Truths

History has recorded numerous accounts, stories, and transcripts of the massacre. Each recorded document—such as a minister’s tragic account of women’s and children’s flight into the woods, fictional accounts that explore the racial dynamics of the day, and a transcript of the minutes of the Wilmington Light Infantry that at once records white men’s triumphant celebration of victory—offer important insights that help to reveal a more complete picture of events. Immediately after the riot, African American residents pleaded for help in letters to President William McKinley. Reverend J. Allen Kirk defends the African-American community in his “Statement of Facts Concerning the Bloody Riot of Wilmington,” weeks after the massacre. Reverend Charles S. Morris offers a similar perspective, but also comments on national implications of race and imperialism. Three years later, David Bryant Fulton published Hanover, an accounting of events that placed the blame on the Democrats. Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition offers a literary exploration of racial entanglements that surround his perspective of the massacre. Scroll to page 159 in John Merrick: A Biographical Sketch and you will find a black businessman’s views of party politics, business, and the Wilmington “race war.” On page 228 of the Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock you will find the Democratic Governor’s white supremacist defense of the massacre in his 1901 Inaugural Address. Wilmingtonian George Rountree offers a similar perspective in his “Memorandum of My Personal Recollection of the Election of 1898.” Harry Hayden wrote prolifically on the massacre. For his interpretation, much lauded by Democrats, see "The Story of the Wilmington Rebellion" and the "Wilmington Light Infantry." Finally, the 1905 “Minutes of the Organizational Meeting of the Association of Members of the Wilmington Light Infantry” demonstrates the organized nature of the violence. In this document, the city’s militia members, some of whom served the U.S. in the Spanish American war, recount in celebratory terms their participation in the events of the riot. Note the vivid descriptions of violence. How does Sgt. J. Vann B. Metts describe the WLI troops’ harassment of Republican John Melton, the white chief of police? What item did they throw at his feet? What tone does Capt. Don McRae use to describe the murder of Daniel Wright? Why did the WLI plan to meet every November 10 “so long as there are any of us to meet?”