Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

men have been encouraged to continue in their acts of lawlessness and brutality. As long as the pulpits are silent on these wrongs it is in vain to expect the people to do any better than they are doing.■


145
THE WILMINGTON MASSACRE

Reverend Charles S. Morris

In 1894 a coalition of Populists and African American Republicans gained control of the government of North Carolina. During the next four years, legislation was passed aiding education, eliminating restrictions upon the suffrage, granting African Americans a number of public offices, reducing interest charges, and equalizing the taxation system.

In 1898 the Democrats, assisted by defections from Fusionists, regained control in a campaign characterized by James W. Bassett, of Trinity College, who witnessed the events, as "a great deal of intimidation and a great deal of fraud." The high point in the intimidation came in Wilmington and resulted in a riot in which between nine and eleven African Americans were killed and twenty-five wounded. ( Charles W. Chesnutt 's novel, The Marrow of Tradition, includes a vivid description of the Wilmingtonmassacre.) White supremacists justified the massacre on the grounds that it was necessary to end "Negro domination," but this claim was effectively answered by Reverend Charles S. Morris, a refugee from Wilmington, in a speech delivered in January 1899, before the International Association of Colored Clergymen in Boston. Reverend Morris also notes that the United States was inconsistent in ostensibly seeking to establish a republican government in the Philippines while refusing to maintain one in Wilmington, North Carolina.

The speech is preserved in a three-page printed leaflet in "Writing of Charles H. Williams," Wisconsin State Historical Society Library, Madison, Wisconsin. The leaflet, entitled The Race Problem: A Story of Cruel Wrongs Suffered by Colored People of the South, told by One of That People, was issued by Charles H. Williams, Baraboo, January 21, 1899. Williams appended to Morris's speech his own comment, which concluded: "When will this people, this nation, take up this grave question, as they did the Spanish barbarities against the Cubans, as they do those of the Turks against the Armenians? Here is a call that should come home to every justice-loving man and woman in the land, North and

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