North Carolina Newspapers

This special section has a simple aim; to share an important story
with as many North Carolinians as possible.
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer worked
together on the project and supplemental coverage. Both newspa
pers will extend distribution through other papers and on request.
The Wilmington Star-News will also include the section in its edi
The section is built around author and historian Timothy B.
Tyson's account of the events that occurred in Wilmington in 1898
and the roots and legacy of those events.
Because newspapers including The N&O (then called The News and
Observer) and The Observer (then the Charlotte Daily Observer) are
part of this history, we sought a writer from outside our staffs to tell
the story and explore its connections to our own times.
If you have questions or comments, please contact:
Rick Thames, editor
The Charlotte Observer
600 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28202
(704) 358-5001 or
Melanie Sill, exeicutive editor
The News & Observer
215 S. McDowell St., Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 829-8986 or msill(|)
In 2000, the General Assembly responded to bills introduced by
Rep. Thomas E. Wright and the late Sen. Luther Jordan demanding
that North Carolina expose and explain the events of 1898 by estab
lishing the Wilmington Race Riot Commission. This 13-member panel
of scholars and political leaders, led by Wright and Sen. Julia Bose-
man of Wilmington, was charged with initiating and reviewing an
investigation of the events to be completed by the Office of Archives
S. History in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
Written by the office’s principal researcher, LeRae S. Umfleet, a
464-page report was approved by the commission in May.
While the report provides a thorough history of the riot, the com
missioners also made 15 recommendations to "repair the moral,
economic, civic and political damage wrought by the violence." They
also said that "newspapers (News and Observer, The Charlotte Ob
server, Wilmington Star-News, The Washington Post, etc.) should
acknowledge the role of media in the events of 1898."
Read the text of commissioners' recommendations on Page 16.
Read the full report and more on 1898 online at key word 1898
Timothy B. Tyson is senior research scholar at the
Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University,
where he also has appointments in the Divinity
School and the history department. He is also in the
American studies department at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Tyson is co-editor with David S. Cecelski of
"Democracy Betrayed; The Wilmington Race Riot of
1898 and Its Legacy," which won the 1999 Out
standing Book Award from the Gustavus Myers
Center for the Study of Human Rights.
His most recent book, "Blood Done Sign My Name,” recounts a racial
murder committed in the town of Oxford in 1970 and the African-Ameri
can uprising that followed. UNC-CH selected the book for its 2005
Summer Reading Program. "Blood" was a finalist for the National Book
Critics Circle Award and won the Southern Book Award for nonfiction
from the Southern Book Critics Circle, a Christopher Award and the
North Caroliniana Award.
Born in Raleigh in 1959, Tyson grew up in Sanford, Oxford, Wilm
ington and Fayetteville, where his father served as a Methodist min
ister and his mother taught fourth grade. He lives in Chapel Hill with
his wife, Perri Morgan, and their children, Hope and Sam.
Go to for a condensed version of this report and a
multimedia presentation narrated by historian Tom Hanchett,
complete with historical photos.
I n 1971, Wilmington trembled on the edge of race war. Seventeen years after the U.S. Supreme
Court had outlawed segregation, the city’s schools were finally attempting to integrate. Ar
son, assault, sniper fire and several killings were the response. Black militants hurled bricks
and bottles at passing motorists. Angry white mobs met in Hugh MacRae Park, near my fam
ily’s home in leafy Lincoln Forest, brandishing weapons and Confederate flags. Sgt. Leroy Gib
son, the ex-Marine who led the local “Rights of White People” organization, routinely threat
ened to clog the Cape Fear River with dead black people if the “race-mixing” continued.
In 1971, National Guard troops patrolled the streets of Wilmington as integration of the public
schools brought the city to the brink of a race war. Here, Guardsmen check a Castle Street store.
Blacks were not the only North
Carolinians whose lives Gibson
threatened. A large crowd of his fol
lowers rallied in front of the home of
the superintendent of schools, Hey
ward Bellamy. The mob had found
this white Southerner guilty of try
ing to make integration work. As
they threatened to lynch him, the
gang cut Bellamy’s power lines and
slashed his tires so he could not es
cape with his family. What saved
them from the white supremacist
militia, recalled his son Frank, who
was in third grade at the time, was
Bellamy’s threat to use “the sawed-
off shotgun my uncle the highway pa
trolman had given him.”
The violence in the early 1970s
knew no color, though it was all
about the color line. Truckloads of
white vigilantes roared through the
city, spraying bullets in black neigh
borhoods and shooting an African-
American minister who appealed for
peace. Black snipers fired at police
officers from rooftops downtown.
Someone murdered two security
guards at Williston school. Police
killed a black teenager near Gregory
Congregational Church. Six hun
dred frightened National Guard
troops patrolled the streets. Bellamy
and his colleagues struggled might
ily, but clashes between black and
white students in the hallways of
our hi^ schools threatened to bring
public education to a halt.
In the midst of this upheaval, my fe-
ther, the Rev. Vernon C. Tyson, c^ed
a meeting of black and white parents
at our church to see whether some
thing might be done to bring peace.
At the meeting, he heard African-
American parents make bitter ref
erence to “what happened” and
“what caused all this” — as if the
roots of Wilmington’s racial trou
bles were obvious. And yet the
quizzical expressions and vacant
nods of white parents made my fa
ther suspect that they were oblivious,
as was he, to something that every
black parent understood.
“When you say, ‘What caused all
this,’ ” he &ally asked, “what are you
talking about?” At first the black
parents refused to believe that the
white preacher did not know what
they meant. Finally, one black
mother paused to point in the di
rection of the Cape Fear. Flashing
her mind’s eye back more than 70
years, to Nov. 10, 1898, she told
him: “They say that river was full of
black bodies.”

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