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August 18, 1898: Wilmington Record Editorial

This editorial, which appeared in the African American Wilmington Record, was one of the most inflammatory writings to appear during the 1898 election campaign. The editorial -- most often attributed to editor Alex Manly, though possibly written by associate editor William L. Jeffries -- was written in response to a speech by Mrs. Rebecca Felton of Georgia, who spoke out in favor of the widespread lynching of African Americans in order to protect white women. Democratic newspapers and orators seized upon the editorial, repeatedly referring to it throughout the remainder of the campaign. The appearance of this editorial is often cited as one of the key events leading to the violence in Wilmington in November 1898.

Wilmington Daily Record Masthead

[Transcription of Editorial]

A Mrs. Felton from Georgia, makes a speech before the Agricultural Society, at Tybee, Ga., in which she advocates lynching as an extreme measure. This woman makes a strong plea for womanhood and if the alleged crimes of rape were half so frequent as is oftimes reported, her plea would be worthy of consideration.

Mrs. Felton, like many other so-called Christians, loses sight of the basic principle of the religion of Christ in her plea for one class of people as against another. If a missionary spirit is essential for the uplifting of the poor white girls, why is it? The morals of the poor white people are on a par with their colored neighbors of like conditions and if one doubts that statement let him visit among them. The whol lump needs to be leavened by those who profess so much religion and showing them that the presence of virtue is an essential for the life of any people.

Mrs. Felton begins well for she admits that education will better protect the girls on the farm from the assaulter. This we admit and it should not be confied to the white any more than to the colored girls. The papers are filled often with reports of rapes of white women and the subsequent lynchings of the alleged rapists. The editors pour forth volumes of aspersions against all Negroes because of the few who may be guilty. If the papers and speakers of the other race would comdemn the commission of the crime because it is crime and not try to make it appear that the Negroes were the only criminals, they would find their strongest allies in the intelligent Negroes themselves; and together the whites and blacks would root the evil out of both races.

We suggest that the whites guard their women more closely, as Mrs. Felton says, thus giving no opportunity for the human fiend, be he white or black. You leave your goods out of doors and then complain because they are taken away. Poor white men are careless in the matter of protecting their women, especially on the farms. They are careless of their conduct toward them and our experience teaches us that the women of that race are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than are the white men with colored women. Meetings of this kind go on for some time until the woman's infatuation, or the man's boldness, bring attention to them, and the man is lynched for rape. Every Negro lynched is called a "big burly, black brute," when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only not "black" and "burly" but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all.

Mrs. Felton must begin at the fountain head if she wishes to purify the stream.

Teach your men purity. Let virtue be something more than an excuse for them to intimidate and torture a helpless people. Tell your men 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.

You set yourselves down as a lot of carping hypocrites in fact you cry aloud for the virtue of your women while you seek to destroy the morality of ours. Don't ever think that your women will remain pure while you are debauching ours. You sow the seed--the harvest will come in due time.

Source: Wilmington Record, 18 August 1898. Quoted in Robert, H. Wooley, "Race and Politics: The Evolution of the White Supremacy Campaign of 1898 in North Carolina." Ph. D. Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1977.

Image Source: The image of the masthead of the 18 August 1898 Wilmington Record was made from a photograph in the North Carolina Collection, call number VC071 W74r. The text of the paper is almost entirely illegible and it is impossible to tell where on the page the editorial appears.

The North Carolina Election of 1898North Carolina CollectionUNC-Chapel Hill Libraries