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Commission Report Details History, Effects Of Wilmington Riots

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Over 100 years ago, a race riot catapulted the state into the national spotlight and may have forever changed the city of Wilmington. On Wednesday in Raleigh, a specially selected commission released its report on the 1898 Wilmington race riot.

The report is nearly 500 pages, but one photograph perhaps tells the story best. In it, white men stand in front of the black-owned printing office they had just set on fire. "They boasted about what they did," said principal researcher Lerae Umfleet.

What the people involved in the coup on November 10, 1898 did was drive black leaders out of Wilmington. Many blacks died in the street. It's the only time in American history that a government has been overthrown.

"It's never happened on American soil, ever," said Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover.

"Wilmington has never recovered economically, socially or politically," said commission vice-chair Irving Joyner.

Six years ago, the state legislature created the Wilmington Race Riot Commission. Its report details the riot and everything that resulted from it. Amongst its findings are that the organizers of the overthrow conspired to institute a banishment campaign, targeting political opponents, black and white, leading to the expulsion from the city of over 20 targeted individuals and a mass exodus of over 2,100 others.

But the question now may be what will result from the report. Will there be some form of compensation, or an apology?

"I don't believe in apologies," said commission member Lottie Clinton. "I believe in the way that you live."

Clinton believes her ancestor was murdered in the riot. And because of the suffering caused by those actions, the commission wants the truth known, with the media's help. In particular, they have asked for the support of

The News And Observer

, because it was that paper's leader, Josephus Daniels, who researchers say helped lead the white supremacist's campaign.

"This needs to be part of North Carolina history," said Wright. "Students need to learn from this."

The commission said that they sought to fill a gap in the story and explain the development of the African American community in Wilmington. Finally, members said they have found the truth -- 108 years later.

"When you tell the truth, you build on it," said Clinton.

Among those goals is the recognition of the long-term economic damage the riots caused and the improvement of development in areas heavily affected by the events surrounding the riots.

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