"A White Man's State": White Supremacy, "Negro Domination," and the Political Debate over Disfranchisement, 1898-1901
In August of 1900, the voters of North Carolina ratified an amendment to the state constitution designed to disfranchise thousands of their fellow citizens based solely on the color of their skin. The Suffrage Amendment was crafted and supported by the Democratic Party, who, as part of their 1900 political campaign, launched a well-coordinated, although viciously racist, disfranchisement crusade, centered on issues of white supremacy and the supposed threat of “negro domination.” The Democrats’ claim to represent the best interests of North Carolina’s white men, however, did not go unchallenged. In fact leaders on both sides of the debate attempted to convince white voters that the best way to promote white supremacy was to join with their respective parties. This exhibit examines the debate over disfranchisement in 1900 and the role of white supremacist ideology in the arguments offered by both the Democrats and their Populist and, to a lesser extent Republican, opponents. Ultimately the Democrats, with the aid of prominent party newspapers such as the Raleigh News and Observer, succeeded in claiming the mantel of the “white man’s party” and making suffrage the central issue of the campaign. The success of Democratic leaders in defining their party in terms of white supremacist ideology and, just as importantly, in convincing a majority of North Carolina’s white voters to identify with their racially stratified platform (of which the amendment was a key part) led not only to Democratic victories in 1900 but also helped to establish the Democrats as the dominant party in the state for the next seventy years. Warning: Some of the items included in this exhibit contain racist images and ideas.