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Friday, May 04, 2007

Wilmington again: why is the truth so hard?

From this morning's N&O on yesterday's House vote to "acknowledge" the Wilmington race riots of 1898, part of the follow-up to the legislative commission's report on the political coup that threw elected blacks out of office.

In a 67-47 vote, legislators approved a bill that recognized the riots that ousted an integrationist government in Wilmington and bolstered segregationist Democrats.

Rep. Thomas Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, said it was one of 10 bills related to recommendations from the Wilmington Race Riot Commission.

Lawmakers defeated an amendment to add wording acknowledging that Democrats, News & Observer publisher Josephus Daniels and others were also behind the riots.

Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican who is House minority leader, said the bill was rewriting history by leaving out the role of the Democratic Party, the newspaper and others behind the coup.

"If you want to do history, we have to do it right," Stam said.

Rep. Dan Blue, a Wake Democrat, said that both Republicans and Democrats contributed to the problems of racism during the 19th and 20th centuries.

"There's enough blame to go around for everybody regardless of partisan bent," he said.

The amendment's failure led some Republicans to vote against the measure.

That Josephus Daniels did not have a key role, that it was not a specifically Democratic move, is belied by the evidence at every turn. From Tim Tyson's writings in the N&O earlier this year summarizing the report of the Wilmington Commission,

As the 1898 political season loomed, the Populists and Republicans hoped to make more gains through Fusion. To rebound, Democrats knew they had to develop campaign issues that transcended party lines. Democratic chairman Furnifold Simmons mapped out the strategy with leaders whose names would be immortalized in statues, building names and street signs: Charles B. Aycock, Henry G. Connor, Robert B. Glenn, Claude Kitchin, Locke Craig, Cameron Morrison, George Rountree, Francis D. Winston and Josephus Daniels.

They soon decided that racist appeals were the hammer they needed to shatter the fragile alliance between poor whites and blacks. They made the "redemption" of North Carolina from "Negro domination" the theme of the 1898 campaign. Though promising to restore something traditional, they would, in fact, create a new social order rooted in white supremacy and commercial domination.

At the center of their strategy lay the gifts and assets of Daniels, editor and publisher of The News and Observer. He would spearhead a propaganda effort that would incite white citizens into a furor that led to electoral fraud and mass murder. It used sexualized images of black men and their supposedly uncontrollable lust for white women. Newspaper stories and stump speeches warned of "black beasts" who threatened the flower of Southern womanhood.

The Democrats did not rely solely upon newspapers, however, but deployed a statewide campaign of stump speakers, torchlight parades and physical intimidation. Aycock earned his chance to become North Carolina's "education governor" through his fiery speeches for white supremacy.

What is Rep. Blue doing here? As an African American Democrat, a member of the post-civil rights-era Democratic Party, sure he has an interest in airbrushing the fact that the Democrats were the bad actors. But the shifting of the ideologies of the parties across the 20th century is well known. It doesn't make sense to convert the perpetrators of this violence into an amorphous "white elite," nor is it right to leave the crucial roles of Daniels, Aycock, et al. out of this official piece of evidence now added to the historical record. What happened happened.

UPDATE 5/9: some of the back story. (Via Ed Cone.)