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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/26/21

Democracy's Advocates in Wilmington, North Carolina, 1868

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

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 would begin 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 takes to terrorize those 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 organizes this militia, charging with the task of guarding the over 11,000 Black men, women, and children.

This is the year 1868, thirty years before the infamous November 10, 1898 coup.

The 2021 Pulitzer Prize winning Wilmington's Lie 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 21 st Century.

In 1868, the Black residents of Wilmington 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 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. While Blacks ceased to be slaves, for whites in Wilmington, Zucchino explains, they never ceased to be Black. Black residents who "'still 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 Moore's men. The KKK would restore order.

Moore promises 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. 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 offers Blacks the opportunity to vote on a new state constitution for North Carolina.

When Galloway is elected to become a state senator, the publisher and editors at 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, refuses 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. Instead, if I read between the lines and, knowing what I know in 2021, I see a fascist indulgence settling in and becoming normalized.


There were ways to remind Blacks that they will never achieve equal rights. Five years before, at the end of the Civil War, freedmen working on plantations throughout Cape Fear came to expect owners to renege on pay due to them. That was telling. White Union Army soldier expressed their loyalty to Southerners. The defeated Southerners. 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." Joined 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, N. C., observers to the city, writes Zucchino, noted that, as far as the white leaders and residents were concerned, the South wasn't defeated. Wilmington did 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 establishes himself as Wilmington's "leading voice of enduring white supremacy." To Black and white residents, 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 country 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!

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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