P R E S S R E L E A S E
Centennial of Racial Violence in Wilmington:
Historians Say It Was No "Riot"
Book News from North Carolina
The University of North Carolina Press P.O. Box 2288 Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515-2288
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For use after October 12, 1998
Contact: Allison L. Reid, Publicity Manager -- 919-966-3561
Chapel Hill -- On November 10, 1898, the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina were filled with turmoil as white supremacists, marching in a procession 2,000 strong, battled the city's black citizens in an explosion of violence that has since been referred to as the Wilmington race riot of 1898.
One hundred years later, historians David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson clarify that the racial violence that besieged the bustling port town was no "riot." What happened in Wilmington, the co-editors write in the introduction to a collection of essays published on the centennial of the event, "was part of an orchestrated campaign to end interracial cooperation, restore white supremacy, and in the process assure the rule of the state's planter and industrial leaders."
Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy, a collection of essays on the tragedy edited by David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson with a foreword by John Hope Franklin, marks the centennial of the Wilmington race riot. Democracy Betrayed (UNC Press, November 1998, $16.95 paperback, $45 cloth) "is intended to draw public attention to the tragedy, to honor its victims, and to bring a clear and timely historical voice into the lively debate over its legacy," write editors Cecelski and Tyson. The editors comment that they hesitated to refer to the racial violence in Wilmington as a "riot" in the subtitle of the book, but they reluctantly settled on the term "race riot" to ensure that it would be understood.
"In its overall effect, however, the event was nothing less than a revolution against interracial democracy," the editors contend. "Its aftermath brought the birth of the Jim Crow social order, the end of black voting rights, and the rise of a one-party political system in the South that strangled the aspirations of generations of blacks and whites."
Referred to by historians as a watershed event in the history of the state and the region, the Wilmington racial violence of 1898 was the result of a white supremacy revolution engineered by the Democratic Party in North Carolina at the close of the nineteenth century.
The white supremacy campaign was sparked by frustration on the part of white conservatives by years of African American self-assertion and political involvement. The white conservatives used violence, demagoguery and fraud to seize political power and disenfranchise black citizens. The "riot" on November 10, 1898 proved to be the culmination of this movement and the most notorious episode of the campaign. It claimed the lives of many black residents and forced others out of the area. The town's daily black newspaper the Daily Record--the only black newspaper in the country--was burnt to the ground.
Intended to address a more general audience, this compilation of essays on the racial violence of 1898 draws together new scholarship on the events of 1898 and their aftermath. Contributors include David S. Cecelski, William H. Chafe, Laura F. Edwards, Raymond Gavins, Glenda E. Gilmore, John Haley, Michael Honey, Stephen Kantrowitz, H. Leon Prather, Sr., Timothy B. Tyson, LeeAnn Whites, and Richard Yarborough.
Cecelski and Tyson make clear the intent of the book is not simply to add to the volumes of scholarly writing on African-American history. "We want to address a more general audience, one that may never have heard of the race riot or the white supremacy movement of which it was the most tragic episode," they write.
Dr. John Hope Franklin of Duke University, advisory board chair for the President's Initiative on Race, writes in the foreword to Democracy Betrayed that there are lessons to be learned from the racial violence of 1898 and the events leading up to it.
"This volume," Hope writes of Democracy Betrayed, "will inform some and remind others that our past can help us understand the challenges that this nation confronts as it undertakes to deal with the problem of race in the twenty-first century."
The centennial of the Wilmington racial violence is also being observed at a free symposium on the effects of the riot October 23-24 at UNC-Wilmington. The symposium, sponsored jointly by UNC-Wilmington and the N.C. Division of Archives and History will feature co-editors David S. Cecelski and Timothy B. Tyson of Democracy Betrayed, as well as professors William Chafe, Duke University; Glenda Gilmore, Yale University; Leon Prather, Tennessee State University; LeAnn Whites, University of Missouri-Columbia; John Haley UNC-Wilmington; Beverly Washington Jones, N.C. Central University; and others. Dr. John Hope Franklin will be the keynote speaker.
David S. Cecelski, author of Along Freedom Road: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South (UNC Press, 1994), is a writer and historian living in Durham, North Carolina. Timothy B. Tyson--who lived in Wilmington in the early 1970's during a time of increased racial conflicts--is assistant professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The editors emphasize in the preface to the volume the personal ties of many of the contributors to Wilmington and its past. "The ties that bind us to home have made this book a labor of love," they write.
Democracy Betrayed is available from bookstores or the University of North Carolina Press, 1-800-848-6224 (credit card orders only).
Note the following events are also scheduled in observance of the Wilmington racial violence of 1898:
Both editors of Democracy Betrayed will appear October 21 at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC at 7 p.m. for an informal talk and signing.
Both editors of Democracy Betrayed will appear October 25 at Books-A-Million in Wilmington from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. to meet readers and sign books.
The Institute of African-American Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is planning a booksigning/forum in honor of the release of Democracy Betrayed November 6, beginning at 6 p.m. Contact the Institute (919-962-6810) for location and details.
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