Long termed a “race riot,” the turmoil that enveloped Wilmington, North Carolina on November 10, 1898 is now called an armed insurrection. White supremacists drove from power all of the black and white elected officials of this predominately African American city in what was believed to be the only violent overthrow of a local government in United States history. Twenty-two blacks were killed during the insurrection and hundreds of African American citizens were forced to flee the city, many of whom never returned. What appears below is a rare eyewitness account provided by Rev. Charles S. Morris who became one of the refugees from the city. Morris provided the account in a speech in January 1899 before the International Association of Colored Clergymen meeting in Boston.
Nine Negroes massacred outright; a score wounded and hunted like par¬tridges on the mountain; one man, brave enough to fight against such odds would be hailed as a hero anywhere else, was given the privilege of run¬ning the gauntlet up a broad street, where he sank ankle deep in the sand, while crowds of men lined the sidewalks and riddled him with a pint of bullets as he ran bleeding past their doors; another Negro shot twenty times in the back as he scrambled empty handed over a fence; thousands of women and children fleeing in terror from their humble homes in the dark¬ness of the night, out under a gray and angry sky, from which falls a cold and bone chilling rain, out to the dark and tangled ooze of the swamp amid the crawling things of night, fearing to light a fire, startled at every foot¬step, cowering, shivering, shuddering, trembling, praying in gloom and terror: half clad and barefooted mothers, with their babies wrapped only in a shawl, whimpering with cold and hunger at their icy breasts, crouched in terror from the vengeance of those who, in the name of civilization, and with the benediction of the ministers of the Prince of Peace, inaugurated the reformation of the city of Wilmington the day after the election by driving out one set of white office holders and filling their places with an¬other set of white office holders—the one being Republican and the other Democrat. All this happened, not in Turkey, nor in Russia, nor in Spain, not in the gardens of Nero, nor in the dungeons of Torquemada, but within three hundred miles of the White House, in the best State in the South, within a year of the twentieth century, while the nation was on its knees thanking God for having enabled it to break the Spanish yoke from the neck of Cuba. This is our civilization. This is Cuba's kindergarten of ethics and good government. This is Protestant religion in the United States, that is planning a wholesale missionary crusade against Catholic Cuba. This is the golden rule as interpreted by the white pulpit of Wilmington.
Over this drunken and blood thirsty mob they stretch their hands and invoke the blessings of a just God. We have waited two hundred and fifty years for liberty, and this is what it is when it comes. O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name! A rent and bloody mantle of citizenship that has covered as with a garment of fire, wrapped in which as in a shroud, forty thousand of my people have fallen around Southern ballot boxes. A carload of workingmen, whose only crime is their color, halted at the border of the state of Lincoln and Grant by a governor who out to be in a penitentiary. A score of intelligent colored men, able to pass even a South Carolina election officer, shot down at Phoenix, South Carolina, for no reason whatever, except as the Charleston News and Courier said, because the baser elements of the community loved to kill and destroy. The pitiful privilege of dying like cattle in the red gutters of Wilmington, or crouching waist deep in the icy waters of neighboring swamps, where terrified women gave birth to a dozen infants, most of whom died of exposure and cold. This is Negro citi¬zenship! This is what the nation fought for from Bull Run to Appomattox!
What caused all this bitterness, strife, arson, murder, revolution and anarchy at Wilmington? We hear the answer on all sides—"Negro domina¬tion." I deny the charge. It is utterly false, and no one knows it better than the men who use it to justify crimes that threaten the very foundation of republican government; crimes that make the South red with blood, white with bones and gray with ashes; crimes no other civilized government would tolerate for a single day. The colored people comprise one third of the popu¬lation of the State of North Carolina; in the Legislature there are one hundred¬ and twenty representatives, seven of whom are colored. There are fifty senators, two of whom are colored nine in all out of one hundred and seventy. Can nine Negroes dominate one hundred and sixty white men? That would be a fair sample of the tail wagging the dog. Not a colored man holds a state office in North Carolina; the whole race has less than five per cent of all the offices in the state. In the city of Wilmington the Mayor was white, six out of ten members of the board of aldermen, and sixteen out of twenty six members of the police force were white; the city attorney was white, the city clerk was white, the city treasurer was white, the super¬intendent of streets was white, the superintendent of garbage was white, the superintendent of health was white, and all the nurses in the white wards were white; the superintendent of the public schools was white, the chief and assistant chief of the fire department, and three out of five fire companies were white; the school committee has always been composed of two white men and one colored; the board of audit and finance is composed of five members, four of whom were white, and the one Negro was reported to be worth more than any of his white associates. The tax rate under this miscalled Negro regime was less than under its predecessors; this is Negro domination in Wilmington. This is a fair sample of that Southern scare¬crow—conjured by these masters of the black art everywhere.
The Good Samaritan did not leave his own eldest son robbed and bleeding at his own threshold, while he went 'way off down the road between Jerusalem and Jericho to hunt for a man that had fallen among thieves. for can America afford to go eight thousand miles from home to set up a republican government in the Philippines while the blood of citizens whose ancestors came here before the Mayflower is crying out to God against her from the gutters of Wilmington.
"Writings of Charles H. Williams," Folder in the library of the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison.