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General Kelly — Historically Ignorant or Hysterically Bigoted?

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The events of November 10, 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina provide added evidence to rebut the recent claim by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that the U.S. Civil War resulted from a failure to “compromise.”

On that Thursday nearly 120-years ago a rampaging mob led by a former Confederate Army officer unleashed the only successful insurrection in American history with the violent overthrow of Wilmington’s legitimately elected municipal government.

During that insurrection – allowed to stand by state and federal authorities – dozens of African-Americans were murdered. Insurrectionists ordered hundreds to leave that coastal city including liberal whites the insurrectionists felt embraced blacks by respecting the rights the U.S. Constitution extended to all including blacks.

Those Wilmington insurrectionists had no desire for compromise because their intent was control through white supremacy. Since those insurrectionists sought to reestablish pre-Civil War total political and economic dominance for whites over blacks, no compromise was acceptable.

The “White Declaration of Independence” issued by those Wilmington insurrectionists asserted whites in that area would, “never again be ruled” by blacks. That Declaration’s “never again” phrase was unequivocal evidence the insurrectionists had no desire to compromise.

The stance of those Wilmington, N.C. insurrectionists, cemented in white supremacy, was similar to sentiments of the Confederates who launched an armed revolt against the authority of the United States government in April 1861.
Confederates disregarded an attempted compromise in the form of a planned amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have barred Congress from outlawing slavery.

Congress approved that constitution changing amendment – known as the Corwin Amendment – weeks before Confederates attacked a U.S. Army fort in Charlestown, SC that started the Civil War. That war stopped the ratification process of the Corwin Amendment by individual states as required by the Constitution.

That failure to compromise claim of Kelly, uttered during a recent interview on FOX News, evidenced extraordinary ignorance of American history from a man who was once a ranking general in the U.S. Marine Corps and/or engrained bigotry in the brain of President Trump’s right hand man.

Kelly’s failure to compromise claim about the Civil War infers a false equivalence placing equal blame on officials in both the North and South. Evidence is clear that Southerners wanted white supremacy inclusive of slavery on their terms only. Kelly’s false equivalence follows in the footsteps of President Trump’s August utterance placing blame for the bloody, deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia equally on white racists and the counter-protestors.

During that FOX interview the White House Chief of Staff praised the leader of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee, as “an honorable man” – a declaration that coddled Lee’s status as a traitor to the U.S. Constitution that Kelly swears allegiance to uphold.

“To suggest anything honorable about the people who divided our nation in an effort to keep Black people enslaved isn’t just offensive – it’s dishonorable,” stated a recent email blast from the President of the NAACP, America’s oldest civil rights organization founded in the wake of a white rampage against blacks ten years after the Wilmington insurrection.

The perception of political oppression from blacks proclaimed by the Wilmington insurrectionists in 1898 erupted from their blinding bigotry because whites at that time held the post of Wilmington’s mayor, seven of the ten city council seats and the overwhelming majority of other Wilmington city government posts from city attorney to superintendent of schools to garbage collection.

“The overthrow or coup d’etat took place within the context of an ongoing statewide campaign based on white supremacy,” stated a 500-page report issued in 2006 by a commission appointed by the North Carolina legislature to examine the long ignored insurrection in Wilmington.

The Commission’s report particularly faulted “historians” for perpetuating the falsehood that violence by the insurrectionists “was necessary to restore order.”

The Wilmington insurrectionists consisted of poor whites wanting “whites-only” employment practices, white businessmen seeking to eliminate black competitors and conservative elites seeking political control. White clergymen and white newspaper editors across the state of North Carolina gave support to the insurrectionists before, during and after their uprising.

None of those Wilmington insurrectionists faced any federal or state charges for their bloody uprising – including that ex-Confederate insurrection leader who became the city’s mayor. America’s then President and North Carolina’s then Governor refused to reverse the illegal take-over of Wilmington’s municipal government. The Riot Commission report faulted “government at all levels” for failing to reverse that political overthrow.

That 1898 racist uprising in Wilmington, N.C. is a part of the ‘Southern Heritage’ that President Trump extols in his support for preserving those “beautiful” monuments erected to honor officials of the slave holding Confederacy.

The failure of 19th Century federal officials to initiate legal action regarding the murder of black Wilmington residents by those insurrectionists has haunting similarities to postures of the present Trump Administration.

Trump’s Justice Department, for example, has backed off even minimal oversight of police brutality including fatal shootings by police in questionable circumstances. Further, Trump’s Justice Department has adopted the legal posture that the predominant victims of racial discrimination today are whites not blacks. The “White Declaration of Independence” issued by the Wilmington insurrectionists contended that whites were under the subjugation of blacks.

President Trump rails incessantly about fake news. The Wilmington insurrectionists saw a form of fake news in an editorial published in a black owned Wilmington newspaper that attacked the contention that it was proper to lynch black men.

During the months before that insurrection, white newspapers in North Carolina constantly reprinted a speech by a white woman in Georgia the year before that declared lynching an acceptable act to protect white women from black rapists. Newspaper publication of the factually flawed speech was part of a nasty political campaign by white conservatives to solidify white supremacist control in North Carolina through removal of white liberals and blacks from elected office.

Black Wilmington newspaper owner Alexander Manly became an object of racist ire because he stated facts than many wanted forgotten: White woman voluntarily had sex with black men yet frequently cried rape when caught in these consensual interracial liaisons.

“Every Negro lynched is called a Big, Burly Black Brute,” Manly stated in an August 18, 1898 editorial published in his Daily Record newspaper. Manly noted that those alleged black brutes were sufficiently attractive for white woman to have “intercourse with them.”

Manly really poked white supremacy in the eye when he reminded that, “it is no worse for a black man to be intimate with a white woman than for the white man to be intimate with a colored woman.” Manly called many whites hypocrites for the fact that “you cry aloud for the virtue of your women while you seek to destroy the morality of ours.”

That “White Declaration of Independence” termed the editorial of Manly “vile and slanderous.”

To protect Wilmington from “such license in the future” the Declaration demanded that Manly’s paper “cease to be published and its editor banished from this community.” Manly was one of the prominent blacks forced by the insurrectionists to flee Wilmington.

The first assault of the Wilmington insurrectionists on November 10, 1898 was to sack and burn Manly’s newspaper.

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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