Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Wilmington and Alfred Waddell

The first place we went after leaving the family reunion at Myrtle Beach was Wilmington, North Carolina. We couldn't spend long there, but the reason we went was to see the memorial to the 1898 insurrection and coup d'etat (which I wrote about in more detail here).

Briefly, white Democrats overthrew the elected city mayor and board of aldermen, which was a coalition of black Republicans and white populists, burned the black newspaper's office, killed dozens of black citizens, and ran many others out of town. The aggressors were called "Red Shirts." This is city hall, where the mayor's office was at the time:

As we were driving west after our short stop in Wilmington, I read more details on the attacks and found out about Alfred Moore Waddell, who became mayor after the coup. His Wikipedia page was particularly enlightening.

For the two years before the overthrow, Waddell and other orators incited fear of black men as beasts that endangered white women. Waddell proclaimed white supremacy, straight up, and advocated punishment for "race traitors" like the white members of the Republican/populist coalition. In one speech, he closed with this: "We will never surrender to a ragged raffle of Negroes, even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses."

Despite voter intimidation and outright calls to kill black voters, the interracial coalition won the mayor's race and a majority on the board of aldermen on November 9, 1898. The next day, 2,000 white men raided the city armory for weapons and burned the black-owned Daily Record office. They then invaded black neighborhoods, destroying property and businesses and assaulting people. Meanwhile, Waddell and a smaller group forced the mayor, police chief, and aldermen to resign at gunpoint.

I knew most of that, but what I didn't know is that Waddell published a defense of his actions in Collier's magazine later that month, in which he coined the term "race riot." As the Wikipedia puts it, he
painted himself as a reluctant non-violent leader – or accidental hero – "called upon" to lead under "intolerable conditions." He painted the white mob not as murderous lawbreakers, but as peaceful, law-abiding citizens who simply wanted to restore law and order. He also portrayed any violence committed by whites as either being accidental or executed in self-defense, effectively laying blame on both sides.
Waddell claimed the fire at the newspaper office was accidental and that he sent the mob home afterward, but that "the negroes starting to come over here" and so it was natural for the white men to go into the black areas and attack. He declares that he was elected mayor by this time (though it's unclear how that could have happened). "Simply, the old board went out, and the new board came in — strictly according to law."

The quoted section of his account on the Wikipedia page ends with him claiming many black people now say they are glad he has taken charge and that the "negroes are as much rejoiced as the white people that order has been evolved out of chaos."

All of this sounds like Mulligan inciting hatred of Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants, proclaiming there were "good people" on both sides of the Charlotte racist and anti-Semitic attacks, and making up his own version of reality generally. The only difference is Mulligan was elected (via the ridiculous Electoral College system and possibly Russian influence) and Waddell directly usurped his office.

No comments: