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If you haven't read historian Tim Tyson's recounting of the Wilmington revolt of 1898, you should—not just because it's important social history for understanding North Carolina today, but because it is a gripping piece of writing. The Ghosts of 1898: Wilmington's Race Riot and the Rise of White Supremacy was commissioned by The News & Observer and ran in newspapers across the state partly in response to a recommendation of the state's Wilmington Race Riot Commission calling on newspapers to "acknowledge the role of the media in the events of 1898" (it's available at www.newsobserver.com).

Tyson makes clear that the bloody assault on Nov. 10, 1898, was the culmination of a statewide coup d'etat led by white-supremacist bank, railroad and business tycoons who ran the Democratic Party. Exploiting hatred and prejudice, they armed and exhorted whites to overthrow a populist coalition of whites and blacks who had been elected statewide in 1894 and 1896 in response to a worsening depression.

In Wilmington—then the state's largest city, with a prosperous black population—Democratic Party leaders organized an assault that left more than 300 blacks dead, caused 1,400 to flee the city, and ended with business leaders forcing the mayor, board of aldermen and police chief to resign at gunpoint.

One of the leaders of the statewide Democratic coup was Josephus Daniels, who owned The News and Observer and used its pages to spread anti-black propaganda with racist, front-page cartoons and fabricated stories about black crimes against white women. The stories do not shy from describing Daniels' role, nor in related stories from describing The N&O's transformation under Josephus' son, Jonathan, into a proponent of equality and integration in North Carolina.

But it doesn't discuss what the next steps should be. One story talks about local activist Larry Thomas' crusade to get compensation for victims' descendants. It lists the study commission's recommendations, including judicial redress for victims, public commemorations of the tragedy, and a call for those formerly racist newspapers to help pay for a public authority to address the issue.

And lately, there have been suggestions that the statue of Josephus Daniels in downtown Raleigh's Nash Square—a gift to the city from the Daniels family that stands facing the The N&O building—be removed.

What do you think? Should the statue be removed? Should a statue of populist Gov. Daniel Russell be placed beside it? Should the state allocate money for minority housing and cultural centers in the affected areas? The Indy now has a way for you to talk about it—in a comments section at the end of every story online. Sign in below, and let the conversation begin.

More by Richard Hart

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