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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Well I know Better Not To Compete With the Superbowl.....so If There's No Afronerd Radio broadcast...Let's talk Black History-The Wilmington Riots!

As the title clearly states, our Afronerd Radio broadcast will be preempted due to tonight's airing of the Superbowl, however I think it's imperative to reflect on seminal periods within the African Diaspora especially since we are in the throws of Black History Month. I readily admit that among some friends and colleagues I have been playfully chided for often exclaiming that there is still hope for Black folk and by extension Black popular culture. Despite the critique I have received (and it hasn't stopped...) for promulgating measured Black Conservatism (in addition to trumpeting the need for an alternative pop cultural counterbalance), it is an increasingly difficult endeavor to fault those who have a wary if not dystopic viewpoint of the future of Black culture. The elephant in the room, of course, is that our country is currently being presided by a man of color. Unfortunately, if you listen to some right wing pundits, the Obama administration might just have something in common with a fictional government depicted within an Aldous Huxley novel-but I digress.

Since this is BHM, I do find myself reflective on where African Americans are currently as well as what life was like post slavery. One question arises-have we actually learned anything from certain historical events that not only showed Black excellence but also the societal campaigns that sought to extinguish that selfsame genius? One such period in time centers around what has commonly been referred to as The Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 or The Wilmington Riots. To the consternation of many Black progressives and intellectuals, the term "pogrom" (and perhaps to a greater extent "holocaust") has often been used to describe historically targeted violence enacted against Jews and other Eastern European ethnics. But history bears witness to a number of racially motivated violent campaigns specific to people of color that certainly can be defined as a pogrom....case in point, the post Reconstruction riots in Wilmington, N.C..

Despite the tragedy of the riots, in which innumerable Black folk lost their lives, it was also a testament to the extent White supremacists will go to impede Black progress and autonomy. Much like the riots that occurred decades later (1921) in the Black business district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, what transpired in Wilmington essentially was the stomping out of the state's Black republican power structure by the White Supremacists that comprised the Democratic Party during this time in our nation's history. But what was it specifically about Wilmington that caused this rage and usurping of power from its Black citizenry? The simple answer is Wilmington was a majority African-American city with a burgeoning Black middle and professional class who also possessed a cross-racial Republican political power base as its backdrop. For your further edification, check out this excerpt from an article summarizing the PBS documentary, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow:

Courtesy of PBS.org-

In 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina, located in eastern Carolina, where the Cape Fear River enters into the Atlantic Ocean, was a prosperous port town. Almost two-thirds of its population was black, with a small but significant middle class. Black businessmen dominated the restaurant and barbershop trade and owned tailor shops and drug stores. Many black people held jobs as firemen, policemen and civil servants. A good feeling between the races existed as long as white Democrats controlled the state politically. But when a coalition of predominately white Populists and black Republicans defeated the Democrats in 1896, and won political control of the state, Democrats vowed revenge in 1898. For many Democrats, black
Prior to the riot, almost two-thirds of Willmington's population was black, with a small but significant middle-class. Headline: A Day of Blood at Wilmington
political power, no matter how limited, was intolerable. Daniel Schenck, a party leader, warned, "It will be the meanest, vilest, dirtiest campaign since 1876. The slogan of the Democratic Party from the mountains to the sea will be but one word ... Nigger." The Democrats launched their campaign by appealing
to the deepest fear of whites -- that white women were in danger from black males. The white newspaper in Wilmington published an inflammatory speech given by Rebecca Felton, a Georgia feminist a year earlier: "If it requires lynching to protect woman's dearest possession from ravening, drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand negroes a week ... if it is necessary." The article infuriated Alex Manly, a Wilmington African-American newspaper editor. He replied by writing an editorial sarcastically noting that many of these so-called lynchings for rapes were cover-ups for the discovery of consensual interracial sexual relations.

To keep my diatribe simple, African-Americans come from a proud enterprising and politically conservative (god forbid!) stock. We have overcome some insurmountable travails where once we were in slave quarters to now the White House....let's start acting like we've been here before. Perhaps a dramatic piece encapsulating this tragedy would be more apropos than an Oscar nomination for the film, Precious-I'm just sayin'. For more on the Wilmington riots, click on the links below:

Wiki's Take on The Wilmington Insurrection

PBS' The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

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