Josephus Daniels

Wilson’s own.

This historical marker stands in the same block as the Wilson County Courthouse. It honors Josephus Daniels, who was everything listed on this innocuous plaque. And quite a bit more. After cutting his teeth at the casually racist Wilson Advance, in 1894 Daniels acquired a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer and turned the paper into a blaring trumpet for white supremacy. From his bully pulpit, Daniels lobbied for the passage in 1900 of laws disenfranchising most African-Americans, a move that effectively excised them from political power until deep into the Civil Rights era. And in 2006, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission‘s final report noted that Daniels’ involvement in the overthrow of the elected city government of Wilmington, North Carolina, by whipping white supremacists to a froth via The News and Observer‘s editorials and cartoons, was so significant that some consider him the “precipitator of the riot.” Nonetheless, Daniels is deemed worthy of prominent honor, and his marker elides his role in the oppression of a third of North Carolina’s population — and nearly half that of his home county.

On 11 January 2018, the Cox-Corbett Historical Society, Wilson County Historical Association, and other groups will sponsor a community viewing of “Wilmington on Fire,” a documentary film about the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, an event cited as the only instance in United States history of the organized seizure and overthrow of a democratically elected municipal government.  The showing is scheduled for 6:30 P.M. at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson. For a fuller understanding of Josephus Daniels’ shady legacy, please consider attending.

The Re-pop-li-can sheriff and deputy.

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“Prisoners escaping from Wilson Jail. The Re-pop-li-can sheriff and deputy of Wilson eat peanuts while the prisoners escape.”

News & Observer (Raleigh), 21 October 1898.

In the months leading up to the cataclysmic election of 1898, the News & Observer almost daily published political cartoons drawn by Wayne County native Norman Jennett. Former Wilson resident Josephus Daniels had purchased the paper in 1894 and immediately converted it into the organ of the white supremacist Democratic party. In collaboration with Daniels, whom history records as “progressive,” Jennett created a series of panels ridiculing Republican and Populist political figures and featuring stereotypical caricatures of their African-American allies. Riding in the wake of terrorist Red Shirts, the Democrats swept elections, sparking a wave of fury that would ignite the Wilmington Riots and effectively disenfranchise most African-Americans for decades to come.

W.J. “Jack” Cherry, a Populist, was the incumbent sheriff of Wilson County; W.D.P. Sharpe was running against him on the Democratic ticket. (I have not been able to identify the deputy.) Days before the election, the Wilson Advance ran this doggerel:

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Wilson Advance, 2 November 1898.

And the jail break?

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Wilson Advance, 11 August 1898.