An Anti-Democratic Force in Wilmington, NC, November 10, 1898 Part I
In preparation for the usual three days of voting in Wilmington, North Carolina, the white leadership organized its defense to maintain power. It called on Conservative Party Vice President, Roger Moore, an avowed white supremacist and commander of the Ku Klux Klan, to begin recruiting new members.
In the meantime, the white Wilmington newspapers began a new campaign: The publishers and editors would conjure up terrifying images of a pending upheaval of power. By way of speeches and newspaper articles, Moore threatened to do whatever it took to terrorize the white residents and newspapers labeled, insolent.
Most Black residents, under no illusion, accepted the April elections as a battle against white supremacy, and, guided by the courage of Abraham Galloway, a Black who escaped slavery, spent their nights, between April 18 and April 20, serving as “Wilmington’s informal black militia.” Informing Black men of their right to protect the Black community, Galloway organized this militia, charged with the task of guarding over 11,000 Black men, women, and children.
The year 1868 -- thirty years before the infamous November 10, 1898 Wilmington, NC white murderous coup.
The 2021 Pulitzer Prize winning Wilmington Lie’s by David Zucchino takes us back to this moment when the struggle for democracy was at stake in America. Just as it is, once again, in the 21st Century.
In 1868, the Black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina had demanded the right to vote since the end of the Civil War. To vote is to be recognized as a citizen; however, to be recognized as citizens, Black residents would have to confront ingrained fear and hate from the white population of Wilmington.
That wasn’t going to be easy when white residents, taking their cue from the leaders and newspapers, complained about “torchlight procession of several hundred black men ‘hooting and yelling and firing pistols and guns’ at imaginary representatives of the KKK,” and received the loyalty of the white politicians in Wilmington. Weighing in, the Republican governor warned Black residents to back down. Don’t expect suffrage anytime soon!
To its constituents, white leadership conveyed its alliance with the general consensus that Blacks in Wilmington were unfit for anything beyond that of servitude to the majority.
To its constituents, white leadership conveyed its alliance with the general consensus that Blacks in Wilmington were unfit for anything beyond that of servitude to the majority. While Blacks ceased to be slaves, for whites in Wilmington, Zucchino explains, they never ceased to be Black.
Black residents who “‘insist that they are entitled to all the social and political rights of white citizens’” were no more than troublesome creatures in need of a show of force from Roger Moore’s men. The KKK would restore order.
Moore promised that the Klan would show up. He warned Black residents to expect a bloody battle. But on the night before the first day of election, the Klan never showed up. Roger Moore and his men “vaporized” like “phantoms,” writes Zucchino.
Black Wilmington went about the business of securing democracy. After all, the midterm election of 1868 would offer Blacks the opportunity to vote on a new state constitution for North Carolina.
When Abraham Galloway, a former slave, is elected to become a state senator, the publisher and editors of the Wilmington Journal register their outrage by calling for his arrest. White politicians called the entire election a fraud, and, as Zucchino writes, demanded “that the election results be invalidated.” The man who did so much to suppress the Black vote, Roger Moore, refused to attend a “boisterous” rally intended to put on a positive spin on what many felt to be a fraudulent election outcome.
But, as Zucchino notes, Moore’s KKK will return in 1898, wearing “red shirts” as they patrol the streets of Wilmington, looking to terrorize Black residents. But in 1868, many white residents find it impossible to conceive of Blacks as equal, “possessing any rights at all.” Despite what Zucchino describes as North Carolina’s “tumultuous” election year, the sight of uppity Blacks makes white residents see red.
Violence against the insolent didn’t cease in Wilmington in the 1800s. Instead, if I read between the lines and, knowing what I know in 2021, I see a fascist indulgence settling in and becoming normalized today.
There were ways to remind Blacks that they would never achieve equal rights. Five years before, at the end of the Civil War, freedmen working on plantations throughout Cape Fear, NC came to expect owners to renege on pay due to them. That was telling.
White Union Army soldiers expressed their loyalty to Southerners, the defeated Southerners and the secessionist Southerners. “Northern troops afforded white police officers wide latitude to violently counter any attempts by blacks to assert their limited rights.” As police officers, Zucchino adds, they had no special training other than their “military skills and their contempt for blacks.”
The police “preyed on freed slaves, whipping the men in public and beating the women with boards.” Joining in the festival of violence by newly-formed white militia groups, consisting of former Confederate soldiers and white residents, the police terrorized Blacks in their homes. It was as if the Emancipation Proclamation was nothing more than fancy parchment in a glass encasement in Washington D. C.
In Wilmington, NC, observers in the city, writes Zucchino, noted that, as far as the white leaders and residents were concerned, the South wasn’t defeated. Wilmington seceded from the US when it came to Black people. Observers recorded Southerners returning home after the war “unbowed” and “full of rage” and “more committed than ever to white supremacy.”
Alfred Moore Waddell established himself as Wilmington’s “leading voice of enduring white supremacy.” In a speech delivered to the community, Waddell reiterates Wilmington’s position on Black suffrage: Forget it! And, as for Blacks thinking of making a home or establishing a business in Wilmington, stop! “[S]top moving to Wilmington in search of work.” Move out, instead!
It wasn’t a surprise that only hours after Waddell’s speech, the body of a Black Union soldier is found in the Cape Fear River. His face, Zucchino writes, was “flayed by buckshot.” Waddell becomes the big shovel, crushing “any attempts by blacks in the Cape Fear county to assert their newly won rights.”
Enter Abraham Galloway. “Functionally illiterate,” Galloway, Zucchino writes, teaches himself “to choose words” that would express outrage at wrong doing. His speeches to gatherings of former enslaved Blacks in New Bern, 95 miles from Wilmington, called for full citizenship and education for Black people. But, first, a year before the end of the war, Galloway urges Black men to join the Union army. Fight against the enslavement of Black people!
“Freemen of North Carolina, Arouse!!… shake of the bands, drop the chains, and rise up in the dignity of men. The time has arrived when we can strike one blow to secure those rights of Freemen that have been so long withheld from us.”
In New Bern, Mary Ann Sharkey, a Black woman with a boardinghouse with plenty of space for Galloway to meet, clandestinely, with other Black men, helped Galloway to raise three army units, consisting of 180,000 Black men to fight in the Union army, writes Zucchino.
Galloway and the newly enlisted become “the First North Carolina Colored Volunteers also known as the African Brigade.” It’s Galloway, writes Zucchino, who, upon meeting with President Lincoln in 1865, thanked him for the Emancipation Proclamation, but also handed over a petition requesting the president to use his powers to give Blacks in America the right to vote.
This is Abraham Galloway! He moves to Wilmington, North Carolina, eventually clearing the way, as Zucchino points out, “for a fertile strain of black defiance in Wilmington and much of southeastern North Carolina.” It’s Galloway who places an ad in a Wilmington newspaper, urging Blacks to resist the undemocratic ideology of white supremacy.
Abraham Galloway is unabashedly—on the side of right. His actions speak to an acknowledgment that white supremacy is inhumane and its supporters are members of a death cult.
In 1868, when Wilmington’s white population takes note of him, they recognize, Zucchino writes, that Galloway was “neither docile nor obedient.” He carried a pistol and defied “racial customs.” He refused to step “aside to let white men pass on the street,” and he didn’t “allow whites to make purchases ahead of him in shops.”
Galloway, it would seem, gave himself permission to be! He gave himself the right to be human, and, in so doing, he seemed to appear to white people like a “white” person.
Consequently, Roger Moore, undaunted by Galloway, sees in this insolent Black man a threat. He could contaminate other Blacks who, collectively, would rival whites for power. Because egalitarian values would be out of the question. Either white supremacy prevails or something else. Something foreign takes over.
Moore vows that his men would be up to the challenge to fight the foreign entity threatening Wilmington’s very way of existing in the world. He demands that new recruits to the KKK swear to uphold “[v]iolence and terror.”
“You solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that you will never reveal the name of the person who initiated you: and you will never reveal what is about to come to your knowledge… you will oppose all radicals and negroes in all of their political designs; and that should any radical or negro impose on, abuse or injure any member of this brotherhood, you will assist in punishing him in any manner the camp may direct.”
Galloway became the most feared and hated Black man in Wilmington, but, he too, was undaunted by the believers in white supremacy. He promised that Blacks will vote—in Wilmington!
When the new constitution is passed, Zucchino writes, it greatly expanded the rights of Black residents in North Carolina—particularly after two years of working around Black Code laws, which “restored blacks to near-slave status. Yet, even after the new state constitution of 1868 nullified North Carolina’s Black Code laws, whites in Wilmington continued as if the Black Codes were still in effect.
Even the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 does little to curtail the white violence against Black residents in Wilmington. Nonetheless, as Galloway predicted, Blacks voted in the midterm elections. Black men “turned out en masse in Wilmington,” writes Zucchino while Moore’s Klansmen accomplished “little more than posting threatening notices trying to frighten blacks with mysterious bones, skeletons, and skulls.”
Nearly 73,000 new registered Black voters helped bring the US and Wilmington closer to a democratic society. Once the constitutional convention won voter approval, writes Zucchino, 120 delegates headed to North Carolina's capital, Raleigh. Of those delegates, 107 were Republican. Thirteen were Black men. Abraham Galloway was one of them.
A state senator now. At the convention in Raleigh, Galloway advocates for a reign, not of terror but of democratic values. Begin with universal suffrage!
Back in Wilmington, the white newspapers called for an end to Galloway! The “‘yellowish-brown horse’” is a nuisance! And that convention? Let’s just call it “‘THE NIGGER CONVENTION.’” As for the new state constitution itself, it was nothing more than “‘THE GORILLA CONSTITUTION.’”
Nonetheless, democracy had advocates.
But this is Wilmington, we are talking about. And the white supremacists aren’t sleeping. Still.
Note: This is Part I of a three part series.