A significant part of Wilmington’s black history has been rediscovered by a New York Times Magazine writer, some Wilmington students and a researcher.
Seven copies of The Daily Record, a black-owned newspaper in 1898, have been located.
John Sullivan of New York Times Magazine co-founded a non-profit group called Third Party Project that found the originals.
“Three copies actually showed up at the Schomburg library, the African American history library in New York City. Three were at the Cape Fear Museum in the archives and Jan Davidson, the historian there, actually contacted us when we were first putting the project together,” Sullivan said. Another copy in the state archives.
Jan Davidson says the three original copies the local museum has were donated by the family of the man who owned The Daily Record.
“Alexander Manley was the editor of The Daily Record and was run out of town during the white supremacy campaign of 1898 so (copies of the newspaper) came to us from his family in the 1980s,” Davidson said.
The Daily Record building was burned down at the start of the 1898 race riots. It’s believed an editorial in the black newspaper provoked the massacre.
Manly, the owner, published an editorial responding to a speech supporting lynching black men who slept with white women. The Daily Record printed that many white women were not raped by black men, but willingly slept with them.
“The Daily Record is responding to the editorial and saying, ‘You know, you call it rape after the fact many times because it’s so upsetting to you but in fact we are all human and sometimes attractions happen and that’s what it is,’” Sullivan described. “Those were words worth killing over.”
But there was much more to what provoked the riots.
Wilmington was a great city for black people who made up about half the population. There were prominent black businesses, and people of color were essentially running the city.
“That drove the white supremacists crazy,” Sullivan said. “This was a good town to be black in. Blacks were starting to get elected to political offices and you might have a situation where a white person goes into the post office or the register of deeds or whatever it is and there’s a black person on the other side of the counter saying things like, ‘Well, you’ll have to sign for that.’”
Davidson says the original copies of the newspaper are kept in the basement of the museum, a safe place for papers over 120 years old.
“The best thing you can do for a newspaper is to keep it in the dark,” Sullivan explained. “Light is a terrible thing for newspaper artifacts.”
Every Friday, Sullivan, and his fellow researcher, Joel Finsel, get together with the eighth graders at D.C. Virgo to discuss the history of 1898 and the importance of the papers. Sullivan says the greatest lesson he can share with the students is to believe that if something ever existed, there’s always a chance there’s a copy somewhere.
“That seems like the most valuable thing we can give them — that particular love for coming up against a historical problem — reading that sentence in a book that says unfortunately this is lost, and we can’t know anything about it and instead of accepting that say, ‘I don’t know. Maybe I’m going to poke around,’” Sullivan said.