Wilmington historical perspectives- 1898

Recent hysteria over the killing of black church goers in Charleston, South Carolina by a deranged white youth has swept vengeful, black civil rights activists and cowering, guilt-ridden whites on a quest to purge all historic symbols of white culture from Southern States—reminding us of the 20th century Nazi book burning and Communist cultural purges (re-education) in Russia, China and other places.

Politicians, commentators, college students and editors have joined the fray to decry “racism,” and cite long past events proving to their satisfaction that Southern States left the so-called “Union” because they wanted to enslave Negroes. Moreover, to this day, 150 years later, it infuriates them that some Southerners continue to pursue the “lost cause” by honoring their history—and their dead.

The Confederate battle flag (bringing uncomfortable recollections that the Southern States almost won the war for independence), statues, street names, college buildings and parks named for Confederate heroes must go; not so much that they “offend” the feelings a few die-hard haters of all things Southern, but rather that they are a painful reminder of the egregious, unnecessary military assault on sovereign American States’ that would have peacefully solved the slavery problem—the waste and carnage was inexcusable and a reason for shaming guilt on those who still insist Lincoln’s War was worth the immoral cost.

Recently, here in Wilmington, North Carolina the Editorial Board (at least one of them a descendent of a Confederate colonel) of the StarNews newspaper has taken a stand against local racial agitators’ calls to strip the name of Hugh MacRae from a park he donated to the city—but not before branding him with currently popular racist labels and discredits and incorrectly characterizing an 1898 political conflict. (See link below)

Mr. MacRae was born the year the War Between the States ended in 1865 and became a prominent, respected citizen in Wilmington.  Editors call him a “white supremacist” and a “co-conspirator” in a local historical “rebellion” between white and black residents in 1898. They write: “he was involved in an effort to overthrow a legitimately elected government….” Yet, even the racially biased author of a book titled “A Day of Blood,” thinks that MacRae “tried to curtail it.”

Historical records show that that government was not legitimate. It was corruptly forced on Southern citizens by Northern occupation forces and political avengers offering patronage to former slaves for their votes. Negroes, displaced by the military invasion, outnumbered whites in Wilmington 10-7 in 1880. They were summarily put in political positions by Gov. Russell, replacing former locally elected officials.

Editors admit that, “(MacRae’s) views on race were quite common for his time.” Yes, at that time, both in the North and South most people viewed the imported (mostly into New England) primitive Africans as culturally inferior, but few thought it was proper to mistreat them. In fact, it is known that generally they received better treatment by Southerners than they did in the Northern States.

Anyway, it is not correct to interpret historical events with the bias of current cultural views—a serious error made by many people who don’t understand historical context or who have an agenda to promote.

For example, editors write, “We should not ignore the dark side of MacRae’s life….” From cultural perspectives in the post-war South, except for violent criminals, it’s incorrect to say that white leaders had a “dark side.” They tried to uphold their values and dignity by courageously standing against the injustices they experienced under Northern military occupation, political vengeance and opportunists. Of course, there were some whites angry enough to become violent, but men such as Hugh MacRae, Col. A. M. Waddell and Col. Roger Moore kept them under control.

Editors’ state: “The 1898 rebellion left dozens of black residents dead and effectively expelled African-Americans from elected office in the area for more than 60 years.” Records I’ve seen don’t support the “dozens…dead” statement.

One of many historical accounts comes from “The Wilmington Race Revolution” based on official public records published in “Pictorial and Historical New Hanover County and Wilmington North Carolina”; by William Lord DeRosset in 1938 (where I found the account summarized below). Other prominent Wilmington leaders, such as Alfred Moore Waddell and James Sprunt, have also similarly described this event.

A white citizen’s committee met with a Negro group demanding they banish black newspaper owner F. L. Manly for a “diabolical and defamatory editorial.”  That was the final insult to the white people of Wilmington after enduring years of “general insolence and overbearing attitude” by the Negros instigated by Manly. When they didn’t respond, a crowd went to the news office. Manly fled and the office burned. Many people stated that the fire started accidentally.

Col. Moore was in control of the white crowd. He told “two or three excitable…hot heads,” who wanted to fire on a crowd of Negroes, that there was no need for bloodshed and if they didn’t get back in line he would arrest and jail them. The violence started in the afternoon “in the northern section of the city.” The whites and Negroes were peacefully assembled, until:

“A negro fired into a crowd of white men, standing near the corner of Fourth and Harnett Streets. One white man was seriously wounded. Later, another was shot and painfully hurt. During the turbulence and conflict which resulted, it was estimated that from seven to ten negroes were killed.”

Open minded readers who want to learn more about this local history can check the well-documented website listed at the end of this essay.

It’s disappointing that editors would discredit Mr. MacRae based on the current popular political views, started by a local committee established to write the history of this event to justify political plans to legislate “reparations” for the black descendents of the 1898 event.

But, I give the Board members credit for bucking the ignorant mob-mentality that permeates these issues to acknowledge that MacRae “had an enormously positive impact” on Wilmington’s residents. Further, it is admirable that they publicly declare:

Leave the name on the park and let history speak for itself.

http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20150713/ARTICLES/150719903/1108/editorial?Title=Editorial-Don-t-change-name-of-park

http://cfhi.net/Wilmingtons1898RacialConflict.php

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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