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NC Dems Apologize for Role in 1898 Riot

Rioters in front of the burning printing press of the city's only black newspaper.

By Catherine Welch and Megan Williams

Wilmington, NC – North Carolina Democratic officials say last year's report on the 1898 riot called their attention to the party's role in the violent overthrow of the city's integrated Republican government, leading to this weekend's apology.

The current Chairman of the North Carolina Democrats, Jerry Meek said before the vote that it's time his party made amends for its role in the only coup d'etat on U.S. soil.

Sometimes looking forward, and moving forward, requires us to look to the past, Meeks said, and to have a sober reflection upon what has happened.

The official 1898 report chronicles how North Carolina Democrats used white supremacy as a campaign tool in the election of 1898, forcing Wilmington Republicans not to mount a slate of candidates under threat of violence.

Two days later, on November 10th 1898, a group of white Wilmington residents ignited a violent overthrow of the city's elected government, setting off days of unrest and handing power to the Democrats.

As part of its apology for 1898, the North Carolina Democratic Party is setting up a program to recruit and train minority and female candidates.

The 1898 Wilmington race riot claimed the lives of more than 60 black residents, caused thousands of others to flee, and began the era of Jim Crow in North Carolina.

The full text of the resolution:

WHEREAS, One of the most indelible events in North Carolina and American history occurred on November 17, 1898, when the city of Wilmington erupted in a bloody riot in which dozens of African Americans - including businessmen, community leaders, journalists, and elected officials - were murdered and banished from the city along with many of their white allies; and

WHEREAS, Public knowledge and historical memory of this event was obscure until the North Carolina General Assembly, led by Representative Thomas E. Wright and the late Senator Luther Jordan, both Democrats, established the Wilmington Race Riot Commission in 2000 to develop a historical record of the event and to assess the economic impact of the riot on African Americans in Wilmington and across the Eastern region and state; and

WHEREAS, The Commission, chaired by Representative Wright and Democratic Senator Julia Boseman, both of Wilmington, oversaw a formal investigation of the events of 1898 and approved a 464-page report, detailing the history of the riot and the events that precipitated it; and

WHEREAS, The Commission's report concluded that past leaders of the North Carolina Democratic Party were directly responsible for and participants in the violence of November 17, 1898; and

WHEREAS, The report also concluded that the North Carolina Democratic Party engineered and executed a state-wide white supremacy campaign in order to win the 1900 elections that was viscous, polarizing, and defamatory toward African Americans and that encouraged racial violence; and

WHEREAS, The effects of that campaign and the Wilmington Riots lasted far beyond 1898, paving the way for legislation that disenfranchised African American and poor white citizens, for lynching and violence against black citizens, and for Jim Crow segregation until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; and

WHEREAS, The North Carolina Democratic Party embraces the Commission's report as a chronicle of an important part of State history, but it is shocked to learn the full extent of past party leaders' involvement in the Wilmington Riot of 1898 as these deplorable actions contradict the spirit, philosophy, platform, and policies of today's North Carolina Democratic Party; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the North Carolina Democratic Party both acknowledges and renounces the actions of past Party leaders involved in the events of 1898 and those actions' impact on the State of North Carolina and the United States of America; and

RESOLVED, That the North Carolina Democratic Party apologizes to those who were affected by the actions - and their repercussions - of past party leaders; and

RESOLVED, That the North Carolina Democratic Party celebrates its role in making the political process more inclusive for African Americans in the 20th Century and honors the actions of each modern Democratic President and Governor, all of whom made significant strides toward desegregation; and

RESOLVED, That the North Carolina Democratic Party is proud of all the Democratic African Americans elected and appointed to governmental posts in North Carolina; and

RESOLVED, That the Party is proud that all 28 members of the General Assembly's Legislative Black Caucus are Democrats; and

RESOLVED, That the Party is proud of new Democratic leaders who are continuing the tradition of pluralism in North Carolina government, including black officials elected to State-wide or legislative office in November 2006; and

RESOLVED, That the Party will aggressively continue its efforts to ensure diversity in the Democratic ticket by establishing a training program for minority and women candidates for office and their campaign managers and hosting an annual summit of minority elected officials who are members of the Party; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the North Carolina Democratic Party reaffirms its commitment to creating jobs, improving education, investing in health care, defending the security, protecting the environment, and ensuring full political participation for all North Carolinians, regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

You can find the work of the Wilmington Race Riot Commission here