Friday, June 2, 2006
The Wilmington, North Carolina Riot Commission has issued its final report. And it's getting a lot of attention, like this Washington Post article and Eric Muller's detailed discussion at Is that Legal?
The story of the riot's origins is important: it grew out of a controversy around the 1898 election and an anti-lynching editorial published by Alex Manly, editor of the local black newspaper, the Wilmington Record. Then the black press was burned, which set off a wave of further violence. (See picture, which appears in the riot commission report.) It's testimony to the power of ideas that the riot began around the press, I think. There's a lot of good work to be done on the explosive power of the ideas of what Ralph Ellison called "the great constitutional dream book"--ideas about equality and anti-lynching in the black community. (Really small tidbits of some work I'm doing on this topic are here and here. And there's some more in the first chapter of Reconstructing the Dreamland. I hope in the not-too-distant future to have a monograph about this; it's tentatively titled Reading the Great Constitutional Dream Book.)
Propertyprof readers may be paritcularly interested in the riot because of the importance of geography. Where people lived (and had there businesses) had a lot to do with where the violence was. Unlike many other riots--East St. Louis in 1917, Chicago in 1919, and Tulsa in 1921 come to mind--Wilmington had some integration of housing and businesses. Those of you who like maps will enjoy these, which depict residential segregation in 1897 and 1905.
Alfred L. Brophy
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