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"The Story Of The Wilmington, North Carolina, Race Riots" Raleigh News and Observer, November 27, 1898


"The Story Of The Wilmington, North Carolina, Race Riots" Raleigh News and Observer, November 27, 1898


The News and Observer, a Democrat newspaper based in Raleigh, North Carolina ran an article that was published originally by Collier’s Weekly who’s special correspondent interviewed Alfred Waddell about the events in Wilmington, North Carolina. Waddell explains his earlier speech and that it had been printed out of context. He also explained how the transfer of the municipal government in Wilmington happened legally, and that they had followed the very laws the Fusion Party had created. He claimed that there is now peace in Wilmington and that they appointed a police force three times the size needed to make the women feel safe.


Raleigh News and Observer


"The Story Of The Wilmington, North Carolina, Race Riots." Raleigh News and Observer, November 27, 1898.




Koontz, Cindy




Raleigh, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina
Wake county, North Carolina
New Hanover county, North Carolina

Original Format

Newspaper Article


Leader in the Reform Movement and Now Revolutionary Mayor of Wilmington.
(Special Correspondence of Collier’s Weekly.)
My active connection with what has been termed the Revolutionary Government commenced when the campaign committee called upon to make a speech stating my views: and I would like to say, in this connection, that some of the daily press representatives who have given an account of my speech selected two paragraphs for quotation, sent them out to the country, and the people at large necessarily formed an erroneous opinion of what I said, from those two paragraphs standing alone. They came to the conclusion that I was a violent revolutionist.
I said in my speech”
“If there should be a race conflict (which God forbid), the first men who should be held to strict accountability are the white leaders, who would be chiefly responsible, and the work should begind at the top of the list. I scorn to leave any doubt as to whom I mean by that phrase. I mean the Governor of this State, who is the engineer of all the deviltry and meatiness.”
This is one part of the speech I also said:
“We will not live under these intolerable conditions. No society can stand it. We intend to change it, if we have to choke the current of the Cape Fear river with carcasses.”
That is the other paragraph which some of the press representatives took out. All the rest of the speech, which was chiefly a statement of facts, was omitted. Those paragraphs disconnected from the text, were sent out as my speech.
When the crisis came, there was a universal demand that I should take charge. Last week, at the mass meeting they made me chairman by acclamation, and also chairman of the Citizens’ Committee of Twenty-five.
Demand was made for the negroes to reply to our ultimatum to them, and their reply was delayed or sent astray (whether purposely or not, I do not know), and that caused all the trouble. The people came to me. Although two other men were in command, they demanded that I should lead them.
I took my Winchester rifle, assumed my position at the head of the procession, and marched to the “Record” office. We designed merely to destroy the press. I took a couple of men to the door, when our demand to open was not answered, and burst it in. Not I personally, for I have not the strength, but those with me did it.
We wrecked the house. I believe that the fire which occurred was purely accidental: it certainly was unintentional on our part. I saw smoke issuing from the top story. Some one said the house was afire. I could not believe it. There were a number of kerosene oil lamps hanging round. They were thrown down and smashed, and the kerosene ran over the floor. It is possible that some fellow set it afire with a match. Immediately there were shouts when the fire occurred. “Stop that fire: Put it out! This won’t do at all!”
I at once had the fire alarm bell rang. We saved the wooden buildings next to the “Record” office, and soon had the fire out.
I then marched the column back through the streets down to the armory, lined them up, and stood on the stoop and made a speech to them. I said”
“Now you have performed the duty which you called on me to lead you to perform. Now let us go quietly to our homes, and about our business, and obey the law, unless we are forced, in self-defense, to do otherwise.” I came home. In about an hour, or less time, the trouble commenced over in the other end of town, by the negroes starting to come over here. I was not there at the time, I was here in this part of town. But we began immediately to turn out and prepare. And right here I want to say this about my part: I never dreamed the time would come when I would lead a mob. But I want to say, too, a United States army officer, a prominent man, was here, and saw the whole performance. He said”
“I never witnessed anything like this before. It is the most orderly performance I ever witnessed!”
Then they got seven of the negro leaders, brought them downtown, and put them in jail. I had been elected mayor by that time. It was certainly the strangest performance in American history, though we literally followed the law, as the Fusionists made it themselves. There has not been a single illegal act committed in the change of government. Simply, the old board when tout, and the new board came in—strictly according who to law. In regard to those who had been brought to the jail a crowd said that they intended to destroy them: that they were the leaders, and that they were going to take the men out of the jail.
I ordered a force of military around the jail. I said to the people: “My position has been radically changed. I am now a sworn officer of the law. That jail and those people must have protection.”
I went out and appealed to the people in different parts of the town. They realized the situation and told me I was right, and that they would stand by me.
I stayed up the whole night myself, and the forces stayed up all night, and we saved those wretched creatures lives.
I waited until the next morning at 9 o’clock, and then I made the troops form a hollow square in front of the jail. We placed the scoundrels in the midst of the square and marched them to the railroad station. I bought and gave them tickets to Richmond, and told them to go and to never show up again. That bunch were all negroes. Then they had taken other fellows that they sent out, and had them somewhere protected. They took them under guard to another train—there were three whites in that party—and sent them off also.
Rumors fly here and there that the negroes are arming. There is no truth in that. They are utterly cowed and crushed, and are not going to interfere with anybody.
I have sent messengers of both races out into the surrounding woods, where, it is said, fugitives are in hiding, begging the people to come back to their homes, and to rest assured they will be protected in their persons and property. A great many have come in, and I expect more will come to-night.
The negroes here have always professed to have faith in me. When I made the speech in the Opera House made the speech in the Opera House they were astounded. One of the leaders said:
“My God! When as a man as Colonel Waddell talks, about filling the river with dead niggers, I want to set out of town!”
Since this trouble many negroes have come to me and said they are glad I have taken charge, I said:
“Never a hair of your heads will be harmed. I will dispense justice to you as I would to the first man in the community. I will try to discharge my duty honestly and impartially.”
No one knows better than I that this has been a serious matter, but it ____ like all such affairs, its humorous side. After the crisis had passed, an old negro came complaining to me about his jack-knife which he wanted me to get back but him. It seems it had been taken from him during the ____. Then another negro came, complaining that some cattle had been penned up, and he wanted them tu’nd loose.”
The pendulum swung from the most tragic incidents to the most trivial. It have been bombarded with every kind of petition and complaint, both for protection against imaginary trouble, and fro what I consider would be persecution—that spirit of cruelty that a revolution always develops: people who want to gratify their animosity and persona spite.
As to the government we have established, it is a perfectly legal one. The law, passed by the Republican Legislature itself, has been complied with. There was no intimidation used in the establishment of the present city government. The old government had become satisfied of their inefficiency and utterly helpless imbecility, and believed if they did not resign they would be run out of town. Therefore they came forward, after consulting with men of our city, and they said each one of them wanted to resign—was anxious to do so so. They wanted to get rid of the responsibility. If our people would organize, they would be glad to resign and let us take the responsibility.
It was not a matter of coercion: the old city government simply realized it was not able to continue in control and wished to be release from the weight of responsibility. A change was imperatively necessary. Men were needed who could and would cope with existing conditions.
In order to accomplish this legally a meeting was held, and the old board of aldermen resigned by wards. One aldermen would resign: that would make a vacancy; and then the mayor (who has escaped from here would ask if there were any nominations for the vacancy; and one of his own men would nominate a man he knew we wanted for the ward, and so on, in succession, though each ward in town. We really didn’t have anything to do with it. They asked us whom we wanted. Successively they resigned, and our men were elected. The room was as quiet as a room in a private house.
It became necessary to elect a mayor. Under the law which they made the mayor could be elected either from their own body or outside. They elected me mayor. We took the city and went right work. There is not a flaw in the legality of the government. It was the result of revolution, but the forms of law were strictly complied with in every respect.
The ultimate outcome, of course, I do not know. There is no probability of further violence. I cannot more gradually or briefly express my opinion on that point than by repeating what I said to the Board of Aldermen when we were arranging for the police. I said: “Gentlemen, I will patrol this city with six women, so quiet and peaceful and orderly is it. It is like Sunday all the time.”
But we went on and wanted to put matter beyond the possibility of a doubt. They have appointed a police force three times as large as I wanted it to be, so that everybody may feel perfectly confident and safe.
It is a fact that a large force of soldiers and naval reserves, armed with rifles, bayonets and revolvers, patrol the streets in squads. I never called on the Governor for any troops myself, but was glad that the commanding officer of the State Guard here notified him of the situation I am using the State troops to cooperate with my police force, but there is no danger. It is simply to make the women and timid people feel safe that they will not be turned out or maltreated.
I believe the negroes are as much rejoiced as the white people that order has been evolved out of chaos.
They have sent my proclamation and they cooperate with my police force, but there is no danger. It is simply to make the women and timid people feel safe that they will not be turned out or maltreated.
I believe the negroes are as much rejoiced as the white people that order has been evolved out of chaos.
They have sent my proclamation and the feel secure, and they are rejoiced over it.


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Raleigh News and Observer, "The Story Of The Wilmington, North Carolina, Race Riots" Raleigh News and Observer, November 27, 1898, Civil War Era NC, accessed July 14, 2024,