The 1898 Monument of Wilmington that took over 100 yrs to acknowledge the wrongs of race riot that ended in coup d’état

Stephen Nartey November 25, 2022
1898 Monument and Memorial Park, Wilmington/photo credit: DocSouth

It was a monument to institutionalize the culture of inclusiveness in the psyche of the Wilmington society of North Carolina and pay a glowing tribute to the efforts undertaken to ensure there is not a repeat of the racial violence of 1898.

The monument was also to honor the lives of African Americans who were killed in that violence and its scars on hundreds of those who sought safety in swamps and forests. 1898 has gone down in American history as a day when prominent white citizens led a coup d’état to overthrow constitutional elected biracial officials governing Wilmington, according to Doc South.

The monument is designed as an arc of six stretched-out, 16-foot tall freestanding bronze paddles flanked by a two-section, low, curved wall made of bronze as well. There is an inscription fixed on the top of the wall recounting the events of that historic day. Each paddle has a small lectern shaped in the form of a bronze box, erected on a large concrete circle with a primary brick walkway which dovetails into the memorial from the parking lot.  

There is a plaque that has been sited near the parking area describing the essence of the paddles, explaining that they stand for the role of water in the spiritual awakening of people of African descent. The brick and concrete circle designed with a brick wall and three short columns symbolize the peace circle.

There are also two columns supporting the bronze plaques which pay gratitude to the donors who supported the project. There are other three plagues named hope circle which also acknowledge the role of donors in the fruition of the project.

Why this is important is that in 1898, there was groundswell resentment against the African-American majority in Wilmington who were in charge of the municipal government, the city’s civil service and other key federal positions. They suffered the worst form of racial violence when an angry mob of whites on November 10, 1898, stormed the government offices and effected the only successful coup d’état in American history.

The period of 1894 and 1896 saw a republican-populist coalition dominating the state government and municipal positions to the disenchantment of African Americans. There was a counterattack spearheaded by the Democrats in 1898 who appealed to white voters’ racial fears and painted a picture of why it is wrong to have African Americans to be in elective positions citing the case of Wilmington, then the state’s largest city.

Other media portrayals and onslaught by the democratic press described African American men as threats to white women, a claim that was dismissed by the state’s only black daily newspaper. In the heat of the electioneering period on November 8, a white mob stormed the courthouse and declared what was known as the white man’s declaration of independence.

Their demand was simple, they wanted a return to an all-white administration and that the black daily newspaper publication stopped with its publisher exiled. A petition was presented to prominent African Americans with an ultimatum that they receive a response within 12 hours which must be mailed instead of hand-delivered.

When the response arrived late, on the next day November 10, the mob staged one of the bloodiest racial violence in the African-American community. They razed to the ground the record and turned guns blazing on the African-American inhabitants. Ten African Americans passed away in the heat of the violence with dozens injured and maimed. Hundreds of African Americans had to flee to the swamps and forests to save their lives despite appeals to the federal government to protect them.

The memorial is a testament to the unfortunate events that happened decades ago. It reminds the Wilmington community of the need to admit to the injustices of the past and strive to make amends by embracing an inclusive society.

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