What traditionally has been termed a “race riot” has also been called a massacre, rebellion, revolt, race war, and coup d’etat. The events of November 10, 1898, in Wilmington constitute a landmark in North Carolina history. Over a century later some details are still in question. The number of casualties, for example, range from the coroner’s fourteen to unconfirmed reports of scores or even hundreds of deaths. The 2006 official state report settled upon “as many as sixty.” All of the reported victims were black. The event marked the climax of the white supremacy campaign of 1898 and a turning point in the state’s history. Restriction on black voting followed soon thereon marking the onset of the Jim Crow era of segregation.
Alfred Moore Waddell, a former Confederate officer and U.S. Congressman, in the days preceding the election of 1898 called for the removal of the Republicans and Populists then in power in Wilmington and proposed in a speech at Thalian Hall that the white citizens, if necessary, “choke the Cape Fear with carcasses.” What had particularly incensed Waddell and others was the publication in August of an editorial in the Daily Record, a local black-owned newspaper. Alex Manly (1866-1944), the editor, charged that “poor white men are careless in the matter of protecting their women” and that “our experience among poor white people in the country teaches us that women of that race are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than the white men with colored women.” The sexually charged editorial, reprinted across the state, provided Democrats with an issue to inflame racial tensions as Election Day approached. Yet the day passed without notable incident.
At 8:00 A.M. two days later about 500 white men assembled at the armory of the Wilmington Light Infantry and, after several others declined, Waddell took on the task of leading them to the Daily Record office in Free Love Hall four blocks south of Seventh Street between Nun and Church Streets. The crowd swelled to perhaps 2,000 as they moved across town. Manly, in the meantime, had fled the city, as had numerous other blacks in expectation of violence. The mob invaded the building, a fire broke out, and the top floor of the building was consumed. The crowd posed for photographs in front of the burned-out frame. Within hours violence had spread to other parts of the city.
Silas P. Wright, the white Republican mayor, resigned under pressure as did members of the city council and other officers, both black and white. Waddell then took office as mayor. The revolt had the support of many of the most powerful men in the city. George Rountree, an attorney and adviser to the coup leaders, in 1899 served as chairman of the state legislative committee of constitutional reform that drafted and sponsored the so-called “Grandfather Clause,” providing that male citizens could vote if they could read and write or if their grandfather voted, thereby denying most blacks the franchise.
The Wilmington “race riot” of 1898 has been widely written about by both historians and novelists. Charles W. Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition (1901), Thomas Dixon’s The Leopard’s Spots (1902), and Philip Gerard’s Cape Fear Rising (1994) used the event as a backdrop. A symposium held at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in November 1998 commemorated the centennial and sparked renewed interest in the subject. In 2000 the General Assembly authorized the creation of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission to study the event and its impact.
LeRae Umfleet, A Day of Blood: The 1898
Wilmington Race Riot (2009), based on report
prepared in 2006 for the Wilmington Race Riot
Riot Commission, posted at:
H. Leon Prather, Sr., We Have Taken a City:
Wilmington Racial Massacre and Coup of 1898
David Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson, Democracy
Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its
The events of November 10, 1898, in Wilmington were a turning point in North Carolina history. By force, a white mob seized the reins of government in the port city and, in so doing, destroyed the local black-owned newspaper office and terrorized the African American community.
In the months thereafter, political upheaval resulted across the state and legal restrictions were placed on the right of blacks to vote. The era of "Jim Crow," one of legal segregation not to end until the 1960s, had begun.
Understanding the Impact
In 2000, the General Assembly established the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission to develop a historical record of the event and to assess the economic impact of the riot on African Americans locally and across the region and state. Building on earlier scholarly, the commission held public hearings and conducted detailed analyses of the written record, both primary and secondary sources, to create a thorough, 500-page report that sought to achieve the aims outlined above.
Read the Commission's Final Report
In 2009, commission researcher LeRae Umfleet released a book on the 1898 riot and its impact. The North Carolina Office of Archives and History issued a revised edition of A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot with new introduction in 2020.
Purchase A Day of Blood from UNC Press
History of the Commission
Wilmington legislators Senator Luther H. Jordan and Representative Thomas E. Wright sponsored Senate Bill 787, which authorized the commission. In advocating for the bill, Wright said:
The events of November 10, 1898, were an important part of North Carolina's and America's history. The significance of this time period needs to be accurately and historically documented. The charge to the commission by the North Carolina General Assembly will accomplish this goal and allow for vital dialogue.
The commission released a draft report in December 2005 and published its final report in May 2006 after receiving public comment.
The full commission included 13 members appointed by the legislature, the governor, mayor and city council of Wilmington, and New Hanover County Commission, and it operated under the auspices of our agency.
Members of the Commission
Senator Julia Boseman
Representative Thomas E. Wright
Prof. Irving Joyner
|Mr. Alfred Thomas|
|Ms. Helyn R. Lofton||Mr. Kenneth Davis|
|Ms. Lottie Clinton||Mr. Leo Shepard|
|Ms. Ruth Haas||Mr. Chuck Stone|
|Dr. John H. Haley||Ms. Kever Clark|
|Mr. Harper Peterson|