June 01, 2006

Reparations For Wilmington Coup & Race Murders?

A commission in the state of North Carolina acknowledges what history has long recorded -- that Democrat partisans overthrew the elected Republican city government in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 and engaged in a campaign of race-based murder that resulted in the deaths of over 40 black citizens who had voted for and participated in the formation of the Republican administration.

Now there is discussion of possibly giving reparations for the crimes of the racist Jim Crow Democrats who perpetrated the bloody coup.

A state-appointed commission is urging North Carolina to provide reparations for the 1898 racial violence that sparked an exodus of more than 2,000 black residents from Wilmington.

The 500-page report that was produced after six years of study also said the violence, which killed as many as 60 people, was not a spontaneous riot but rather the nation's only recorded coup d'etat.

"There is no amount of money that can repair what happened years ago and compensate for the loss of lives and the loss of property," said vice chairman Irving Joyner, a professor at N.C. Central School of Law.

The commission did not provide any cost estimates, although compensation advocate Larry Thomas of Chapel Hill estimated that the economic losses calculated today are "probably in the billions of dollars."

Along with compensation to victims' descendants, the commission also recommended incentives for minority small businesses and help for minority home ownership. It also recommended that the history of the incident be taught in public schools.

Let's be clear about the results of the racist pogrom.

The 1898 violence began when white vigilantes, resentful after years of black and Republican political rule during Reconstruction, burned the printing press of a black newspaper publisher, Alexander Manly.

Violence spread, resulting in an exodus of 2,100 blacks, the commission concluded. Then the largest city in the state, Wilmington flipped from a black majority to a white majority in the months that followed.

Before the violence, which led to a Democratic takeover from Republicans and Populists, black men in North Carolina had been able to vote for about three decades. But Democrats quickly passed voter literacy tests and a grandfather clause, which disenfranchised black voters until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"The growth of Wilmington was stunted as a result of what happened in 1898," Joyner said. "Wilmington has never recovered economically, socially or politically."

I don't minimize what happened in Wilmington -- and in fact wrote about it several months back (when the News & Observer wrote about this horrific event and its own involvement with it), decrying that fact that the Democrat partisans who engaged in murder, mayhem, and the suppression of civil rights of American citizens were never punished for their misdeeds.

No one was arrested for this act of rebellion against lawful authority during time of war (treaty negotiations to end the Spanish-American War were still underway in Paris), and Josephus Daniels, whose active support for white supremacy in the pages of his newspaper led to him being referred to by one historian as the "precipitator of the riot", eventually became Secretary of the Navy for the entire two terms of the Wilson administration.

It was an evil deed perpetrated by the racist members of a racist political party that practices and encourages racism to this day.

That said, I do not know how reparations can ever be properly assessed or distributed.

Those who perpetrated the misdeeds 108 years ago are long dead, as are their victims. Given that reparations are designed to "repair" or "make whole" those who have been harmed, and morally can only be legitimate if they come from those whose actions were responsible for the damage, it is impossible to repair the damage. The harm is too remote, and the connection of present day North Carolinians to the perpetrators is so tenuous, that it is impossible to do more than acknowledge the evils done in the past and make a firm resolution of purpose to ensure that such wrong-doing will never be permitted in the future.

More to the point, the only remaining "perpetrators" of this coup and campaign of murder are the Democrat Party and the News & Observer newspaper (which stirred the white supremacists to action). I suppose that the government of North Carolina could disband those two institutions, seize their assets, and distribute the proceeds to the descendants of the murder victims. But this would never happen, because anyone with common sense would recognize that such actions would be unjust (as would actions against the individual descendants of Josephus Daniels and other participants in these ugly events for their ancestors' misdeeds). The reality is that the present-day institutions are not the same as those who committed the crimes of 1898 -- the News & Observer has been owned for over a decade by a California corporation, and the Democrat Party (while still racist and disloyal to Constitutional notions of equal rights for all regardless of race) cannot really be held responsible for the actions of its members and officials over a century ago.

And neither can the twenty-first century taxpayers of North Carolina be held responsible for the failings of nineteenth-century government officials.

So I encourage the building of monuments to prick the conscience, the establishment of educational programs to dispel the ignorance that is racism, and the recommitment of our society to eradicating government imposed barriers to equality for all Americans. But financial reparations at this late date would be simply one more injustice added to the tab of those who overthrew the elected government of Wilmington, murdered its citizens, and destroyed a community.

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