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Black man killed by white mob in 1898 finally receives funeral


Joshua Halsey, a black laborer and father of four, was sleeping in his bed on November 10, 1898, when one of his daughters shook him to wake him up.

He was deaf and had not heard the shots fired by a white crowd marching through the streets of Wilmington, North Carolina, then a predominantly black city where residents owned businesses and occupied seats of power.

The mob intended to overthrow the municipal government, which was made up of black leaders and their white allies.

Mr Halsey, a beloved 46-year-old man whose family had lived in the city for 100 years, was one of their targets, according to historical accounts.

He ran out the back door, but the crowd caught up to him about a block from his house on Bladen Street and shot him 14 times. He was hastily buried in an unmarked grave on a family plot in Pine Forest Cemetery. Most of her family fled to New Jersey, part of a diaspora of black residents, artisans and professionals who left the city after what became the Wilmington massacre and coup. from 1898.

On Saturday, nearly 123 years after his death, Mr Halsey received a funeral attended by city leaders, hundreds of residents and his living relatives from scattered parts of the country. Some of them said they had only learned in recent years that they were his descendants.

A carriage carried a coffin containing an earthen jar taken from the place of his death. A gravestone engraved with Mr. Halsey’s name and the names of his wife, Sallie, and their four daughters has been placed on his grave.

“It was amazing,” said Gwendolyn Alexis, 65, Mr. Halsey’s great-granddaughter. “It was so powerful.”

Mr. Halsey was among 60 to 250 people who were killed that day. White supremacists of the day admitted to killing only him and seven others, said John Jeremiah Sullivan, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and founder of the Third Person Project, a Wilmington-based document research group.

Mr Sullivan and other members of the group found Mr Halsey’s grave in October, after searching the cemetery for his remains. Historical maps of the cemetery, where many important black Americans are buried, were disorganized and chaotic.

Members of the Third Person Project had to analyze death certificates of Mr Halsey’s relatives, other public documents and research by previous historians to find the grave. Mr Sullivan said the group was able to confirm which grave belonged to Mr Halsey using ground-penetrating radar from the office of community engagement at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, a city port of about 120,000 people about 130 miles south of Raleigh. , the state capital.

Hesketh Brown Jr., 58, Mr Halsey’s great-grandson, said he hopes the funeral will be part of a larger city effort to understand and confront its own history.

“This city needs closure,” he said. “And the truth helps to end if we accept the truth.”

In 2006, the state released a report of a commission created to establish a historical record of the massacre.

The Wilmington Race Riot Commission of 1898 determined that the riot was a planned coup organized by white supremacists, who wanted to oust black elected officials and their allies from the Republican and Populist parties from the state government. At the time, the Democratic Party was almost entirely made up of white voters, and white supremacy was an important platform for the party’s political leadership.

Democratic leaders used racist propaganda speeches and cartoons, while taking advantage of unfounded fears that black men would pose a threat to white women, to influence white voters in that year’s election across the country. State, according to the findings of the commission.

Many blacks were also kept out of the polls by paramilitary groups recruited by the Democratic Party.

It worked. On November 8, Democrats swept the election, but in Wilmington, the Republican mayor remained in power. The same goes for the council of aldermen, which included black men.

On November 10, a crowd of armed white men traveled to Wilmington and forced the mayor and council of aldermen to resign.

The crowd went to the office of the Daily Record, the local African-American newspaper, and set it on fire.

They then burst into the town, gunning down black residents, including Mr. Halsey, and forcing the others to flee to the Pine Forest Cemetery, where they hid, freezing in the swamps near the Cape Fear River. . Many of them likely died from exposure, Sullivan said.

Ms Alexis, who teaches at California State University in Fullerton and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said she thought of the people at the funeral as she shivered in a coat and under a blanket.

“It took me as I was sitting there to feel a little bit what they must have been feeling,” she said. “They had nothing. They were just running for their lives, these human beings.

The insurgency laid the groundwork for Jim Crow laws and the subsequent disenfranchisement in North Carolina.

The events of that day were distorted by newspaper articles at the time that described black residents as armed instigators. Like the Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma, the Wilmington Massacre has often been overlooked in the history books, if it has been mentioned.

Linda Thompson, head of diversity and equity for New Hanover County, said Mr. Halsey’s funeral was one of many events the county helped organize to raise awareness of the coup. State.

“There are so many people in our community who had no idea,” she said. “They are definitely trying, want to know more.”


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