BERNHARD THUERSAM RESPONDS—–1898 Wilmington "Race Riot" Commission

(Bernhard Thuersam attended nearly all 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission (WRRC) meetings and hearings conducted since June, 2003, and has compiled a detailed account of the dialogue and discussions at each. He has studied the 1898 Wilmington conflict since 1995, and comments regularly on media reports and viewpoints regarding the 1898 event. Thuersam is the Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute, and past-Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees.)

1898 Remembered:

The recent "1898 Remembered" tabloid released in several North Carolina newspapers on November 17th was yet another attempt to sway public opinion in support of financial reparations for black residents, and obscure important facts about the 1898 Wilmington conflict. Though disguised as "economic incentives" for the black community and black businesses—it is clear that it is "reparations" with another name.

The tabloid’s intent is to justify the need for reparations with the author, Timothy Tyson, admitting to heavy reliance on the biased and revisionist "1898 Wilmington Race Riot Report" version of the conflict written by State Archives & History researcher LeRae Umfleet. Make no mistake—the "report" is simply Umfleet’s personal viewpoint of the event, with little or no visible involvement of the commission that I witnessed.

Tyson was selected and compensated for his tabloid story by the three out-of-State owned newspapers, and this fits into the pattern well-demonstrated by the WRRC—pick those with little knowledge of the conflict to gather carefully-sifted and selected facts to fit pre-determined results and expectations.

An internet search of Tyson reveals that he co-authored a book entitled "Democracy Betrayed" with David Cecelski, and his sole chapter dealt with interracial violence in North Carolina during WWII, not with 1898 Wilmington. A recent book he authored is not even 1898-related, and one wonders why the newspapers would select someone so unfamiliar with the topic—but it is obvious that Tyson was paid to write what is essentially a synopsis of Umfleet’s version of events, which he readily admits. Like the commission’s "report," there is nothing original in the rewrite of another’s flawed work.

And how Tyson can claim that democracy was "betrayed" when white Wilmingtonians opposed a perverted Republican regime that was appointed from Raleigh—is remarkable. It was clear that the Republicans Tyson defends were the sworn enemy of the voice of the people.

If the newspapers in question wanted an accurate and truly inclusive view of the conflict, they could have easily presented acclaimed Wilmington historian Louis T. Moore’s writings on the conflict, or spoken with Steve McAllister, a noted expert on Wilmington and North Carolina history. Moore was 13 years of age in 1898, and lived through that era as well as being acquainted with the participants. McAllister could have easily directed Tyson to the multitude of existing, and privately-funded studies of the 1898 conflict, and helped him produce an account that respected a diversity of opinion on the topic, and a wide array of viewpoints.

It is an arrogant historian who today denigrates the character and knowledge of those who experienced an event long ago, writing from first-hand experience—and himself claims to know the facts, politics and social environment of that period better than they.

Lost on Tyson, as well as the news reporters who regularly regurgitate the same flawed opinions and innuendo about 1898, is the actual mission of the WRRC—to study economic losses suffered by black residents after the conflict. Absolutely no evidence of property loss was found by the WRRC after four years of meetings and public hearings, and its members admit so. The "rock solid" economic research of Sue Ann Cody in June 2000 ("After The Storm") found no wrongdoing, and Cody admits going into her work expecting to find many cases of property loss to substantiate the well-worn legend of widespread property theft by white Wilmingtonians.

While the WRRC could have easily relied upon Cody’s excellent work, it hired an economics graduate student from Chapel Hill to begin a new study, despite Umfleet stating that there was no time to do more than a localized review. The student "report" was sprinkled with "you can make inferences," from the data, and "it appears that" the data suggests something, but documented no cases of economic loss. This student was interned after what NC Department of Archives & History Research Supervisor Mike Hill called "an abortive attempt to involve the UNC-Wilmington Economics Department" in the study. It was clear that the seasoned academics could not be swayed to bend their professional ethics to support such a sordid enterprise—and using Cody’s findings certainly would have contradicted and exploded the WRRC’s theory.

On top of this, another student was interned to create an essay dealing with the fictional accounts written about the 1898 conflict, as if this had any bearing on a commission charged with reviewing facts and real economic losses after the event.

To summarize—instead of responsibly reporting the absolute lack of evidence to the public and properly disbanding, the WRRC irresponsibly directed its researcher to compile a commodious assortment of sifted facts, opinions and assumptions to obscure their mission failure. The primary achievement of the WRRC has been to severely worsen racial relations in Wilmington as it demands financial payment from people, white and black, who had no involvement in the political shenanigans of a long ago era. As we can see, the Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer, and the Wilmington Star News are all opponents of free speech as they thwart a broad and inclusive view of the 1898 conflict; and they are all complicit in the demise of amicable race relations in this State as they blindly pursue the folly of reparations for those who lost nothing.

Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402


For a diversity of opinion and viewpoint on the 1898 Wilmington conflict and social-political environment it evolved from, I suggest the following as a start:

Reconstruction in North Carolina, Jos. DeR. Hamilton
Politics in Wilmington & New Hanover County, 1865-1900, McDuffie
Editor in Politics, Josephus Daniels
Maverick Republican in he Old North State, Crow & Durden
After The Storm: Racial Violence and Consequences for African-
Americans, Cody
Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock, RDW Conner
The Story of the Wilmington Rebellion, Harry Hayden
Chronicles of the Cape Fear, James Sprunt
Ballots & Fence Rails, William McKee Evans
North Carolina History, Hugh Talmage Lefler
Memoirs of an Octogenarian, John D. Bellamy

And websites—

— In, wrote:

Several readers of the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer respond today to the newspaper’s coverage of the 1898 Wilmington "race riot" commission and its thinly veiled attempt at race-based reparations.

While what happened in Wilmington at the turn of the 20th century was horrible and lamentable, the recommendation for reparations by the Wilmington Race Riot Commission is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to take another step closer to obtaining reparations for pre-Civil War slavery.

Matthew Bossman

The first 15 pages of your special section "The Ghosts of 1898" were historically interesting, considering it happened over 100 years ago and no one from the incident is still living. The 16th page’s "Recommendations of the commission" were nothing more than blackmail of the taxpayers of North Carolina. "Repair the wrong" equals give us something for free!

I was born in North Carolina and have lived here all of my 60 years. I’ve never been so disgusted with a newspaper article in my life. These people need to get over it!

Arthur T. Pittman

I applaud The N&O for taking its share of the blame for what happened in Wilmington and throughout the South at the turn of the 20th century. The Wilmington Race Riot Commission’s findings and recommendations did come up just a little short, though.

Since the oppression of the period came at the hands of the Democratic Party, the party should be held accountable. If there is any compensation or other financial payment for these atrocious times, it should come from Democratic Party coffers. I doubt that the Baptists, for example, would want to help pay for a wrong done by a Catholic priest, even though they are all Christians. Likewise, Republicans, who stood for interracial rule and equality, do not want to pay for the sins of the Democratic Party.

Paul Donovan

— In, northcarolinasouth@… wrote:

Bernhard Thuersam, president of the Cape Fear Chapter, North Carolina League of the South, responds below to inaccurate claims in the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer about the League as well as the 1898 Wilmington "Race Riot" Commission, a taxpayer- supported pro-reparations organization. The original N&O article follows Thuersam’s response.

Apparently uninterested in the corruption allegations made by the Cape Fear Chapter, NC League of the South with regard to the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission (1898WRRC) since 2003, News & Observer reporter Kristin Collins can only muster a claim that the League is "against civil rights."

Collins also claims the commission has worked on the report for 6 years, despite researcher LeRae Umfleet not joining the 1898WRRC until November of 2003 and stating so in their official minutes. What we have here just another all-too-common case of a newspaper-employed hack-typist who is just too lazy to read, research her topic and check facts.

This "against civil rights" is all Collins could decipher from a 20-minute phone discussion with me as I described the reasons the League saw this as an appropriate local project to study and monitor. After she mentioned the very popular website operated by the 1898 Wilmington Institute for Education & Research, a well-respected and valuable resource for information, I asked her what she thought of its contents—her reply being that it was difficult reading and hard to understand.

Well, there you are.

Further, despite being provided by me with the in-depth records of the 1898WRRC meetings compiled by the CFC/LS, Collins could only claim that this local group "denies the report." Instead of noting that this public body conducted its business behind closed doors; or that the commission make-up was nearly all- black and rabid reparations advocates; that its own members admitted that they had not accomplished their goal; that no economic loss has been proven; its economics "expert" was a graduate student; or that two of its members are racists; one white member is a political opportunist after the black vote, the other a newcomer to Wilmington—she can only muster that the League "denies the report." The League does not "deny the report," it questions the entire foundation it is created upon and believes it to be a colossal waste of time and taxpayer dollars that will only serve to worsen race relations. It would be sheer lunacy to expect that a commission would produce an objective and believable report.

First, the website is not affiliated with the League and it does not contain any League material or links. It is wholly independent and states such on its Home Page. It is a superb resource for local history researchers and we wish the Institute well in the future.

Second, as Collins is unable to discern what the site content means, except that it questions her client’s untenable positions, she finds it much easier to attempt to discredit the site by association with the League of the South, and the usual whipping boy, the Confederate flag.

When Collins describes that site as using "accounts written decades ago," we see clearly what the 1898WRRC report really constitutes—the media and NC Archives & History bolsheviki can create new history by discrediting the "old history" as reactionary, skewed and racist. We can be assured that the "new history" written by party stalwarts like Umfleet, will of course, be above reproach.

So, instead of studying her topic deeply and trying to understand both positions in order to accomplish what was known as "journalism"—it was much easier (and important) for Collins to discredit the website by association with the media’s evil of the day. This is how hack-typists operate—guilt by association and character assassination.

Lastly, unable to find any evidence of stolen property or economic loss on the part of black Wilmington residents, and the commission members admitted such, Umfleet was instructed to create a weighty "report," better known as her version of events, to justify the demand for reparations that is coming. The intent of the commission was never in doubt, even with no evidence.

The local League chapter sees Rep. Wright’s commission engaging in sordid racial demagoguery that will further damage the racial harmony we enjoy in Wilmington. We should be working toward better relations and avoiding what the great Booker T. Washington referred to as "the class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, wrongs and hardships of the Negro race before the public—because it pays."

Also, we must not overlook the most important and serious issue involved here, that the North Carolina Department of Archives & History, a tax-funded entity that holds the public trust, has been used for Wright’s nefarious scheme of reparations and slanted history. No longer does that Department have the credibility it once held, as it sacrifices historical accuracy, objectivity and scholarly research for the sake of political expediency.

As far as recognizing that property theft or wrongdoing occurred in Wilmington’s past— I have steadily maintained that the courts are open, and anyone with proof of property loss need only bring suit against the perpetrator to regain their property —this is the American way and the proper way to redress past wrongs.

Collins’ article was designed to simply further mislead the public and support the position of the News & Observer— reparations.

Anyone desiring the Cape Fear Chapter’s minutes of the 1898WRRC meetings need only e-mail me for copies.

Bernhard Thuersam, President
Cape Fear Chapter,
North Carolina League of the South
Kristin Collins, Staff Writer