What You Need To Know About The 1898 Wilmington Monument

Wilmington/photo credit: DocSouth


It was a monument to instill an inclusive culture in the psyche of Wilmington society in North Carolina, as well as a glowing tribute to the efforts made to prevent a repeat of the racial violence of 1898.

The monument was also intended to honor the lives of African Americans who were killed in the violence, as well as the scars it left on hundreds of people who sought refuge in swamps and forests. According to Doc South, 1898 is remembered in American history as the day when prominent white citizens led a coup d’état to overthrow constitutionally elected biracial officials governing Wilmington.

The monument is composed of six stretched-out, 16-foot-tall freestanding bronze paddles flanked by a two-section, low, curved bronze wall. On the top of the wall is an inscription that recounts the events of that historic day. Each paddle has a small bronze box-shaped lectern erected on a large concrete circle with a primary brick walkway that leads into the memorial from the parking lot.

A plaque near the parking area describes the meaning of the paddles, stating that they represent the role of water in the spiritual awakening of people of African descent. The peace circle is represented by a brick and concrete circle with a brick wall and three short columns.

There are also two columns that support the bronze plaques that express gratitude to the donors who helped fund the project. There are three more plagues called Hope Circle, which acknowledge the role of donors in the project’s success.

This is significant because, in 1898, there was widespread resentment of Wilmington’s African-American majority, who were in charge of municipal government, the city’s civil service, and other key federal positions. They were subjected to the worst form of racial violence when, on November 10, 1898, an angry mob of whites stormed the government offices and staged the only successful coup d’état in American history.

In 1894 and 1896, a republican-populist coalition dominated state government and municipal positions, much to the chagrin of African Americans. In 1898, the Democrats launched a counterattack, appealing to white voters’ racial fears and painting a picture of why it is wrong to have African Americans in elective positions, citing the case of Wilmington, the state’s largest city at the time.

Other media portrayals and attacks by the democratic press portrayed African American men as threats to white women, a claim refuted by the state’s only black daily newspaper. On November 8, in the midst of electioneering, a white mob stormed the courthouse and issued what became known as the white man’s declaration of independence.

Their demand was simple: they wanted an all-white administration restored and the publication of black daily newspapers halted, with the publisher exiled. A petition was presented to prominent African Americans with the demand that they respond within 12 hours and that it be mailed rather than hand-delivered.

When the response was delayed, the mob staged one of the bloodiest racial violences in the African-American community the next day, November 10. They burned down the record and opened fire on the African-American residents. In the midst of the violence, ten African Americans were killed, and dozens were injured or maimed. Hundreds of African Americans were forced to flee to the swamps and forests to save their lives, despite federal government pleas to protect them.

The memorial is a reminder of the tragic events that occurred decades ago. It reminds the Wilmington community of the importance of admitting past injustices and working to make amends by embracing an inclusive society.


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