On November 8, 1898, Wilmington's the Messenger warned that the city had "GONE TO THE N------." Today, on election day, for the sake of the city, for the continuation of white supremacy, the newspaper urged white citizens to vote. "Rise Ye Sons of Carolina."
Proud Caucasians one and all...
Hear your wives and daughters call...
Rise, defend their spotless virtue...
With your strong and manly arms...
Rise and drive this black despoiler from your state.
As David Zucchino writes in Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, the white newspapers called on Wilmington's white population to act. For months, these newspapers created narratives of nightmarish scenarios in which the black man, in particular, was always the villain, a haunting menace that threatened the purity of the white community. What was to be done with the "Negro problem"? End the reign of terror!
One hundred and fifty white men had assembled at the Fifth Precinct of the First Ward, "where 313 blacks and 30 whites had registered" to vote. Outside, men "turned off electric street lights" while others entered the polling station and began upending tables and knocking over all the lamps. Among the men was former Mayor William Harrison who took advantage of the commotion to remove ballots from the Democrats' boxes only to stuff them into an "unattended ballot box for the state senator race." At the Second Precinct of the Fifth Ward," a group of men did the same stuffing of Democrat ballots into voting boxes.
The tally at the Fifth Precinct revealed an "astonishing" win for the Democrat William Davis, writes Zucchino, who received 456 votes, 113 more "than the total number of registered voters in the precinct."
It was astonishing to count votes for Davis at the Second Precinct, particularly when he received "251 votes to just 39 for the Fusionist-Republican candidate," despite the fact that blacks out-numbered whites 240 to 140.
The Republican vote was devastating. The Fusionists, counting on fairness from the Democrats, seemed to think the fight for equality and justice ended when, thanks to their organization, black men won seats throughout the state. The Fusionist majority 960-vote in 1896 flipped to "a 500-vote margin for Democrats in 1898" in the county. Not surprisingly, as Zucchino explains, the instigators of election fraud-won seats in the state house (George Rountree) while others won seats on the county Board of Commissioners (Roger Moore).
The Republican governor, Daniel Russell, had a strategy to protect his safety since he took the threats against his life seriously. His strategy for travel from Raleigh to Wilmington to vote worked well enough. But it fell apart on the way back to the state capitol. Forced to hide in the baggage car of the train, Governor Russell listened for hours as the Red Shirts stood outside calling for his death. "'Where's the governor. Bring him out! Lynch him! Lynch the governor!'"
The early edition of the Messenger warned that "there is retribution in history."
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