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North Carolina had long been a hotbed of racial unrest. In 1898, only 35 years after blacks got the right to vote, many of the whites in the area openly hated them and did not choose their words carefully when expressing this. The Republican Party was biracial, but the Democratic Party ran an 1898 campaign of regaining white supremacy. The Democrats regained control of the state legislature, and the some whites in Wilmington formed a group of 25 who demanded that Alexander Manly, a black newspaper owner, be forced to shut down and leave. Manly refused, whereupon Alfred Waddell, a white supremacist and Congressman who had just been unseated, organized a group of 2,000 armed white Spanish-American War veterans who marched to the newspaper office. They destroyed the printing equipment and burned the building to the ground.
Waddell intended to disband the group, as the job was done and Manly had gone into hiding. But the mob quickly turned anarchic, and began hunting down and attacking blacks all over the city. Violence continued for several days. Death estimates range from six to 100, all blacks, with the wide range due to the incomplete records of the hospitals. Many blacks fled the city and hid in the swamps, while others left the area permanently. Waddell was subsequently “elected” mayor, essentially as a result of a coup d’etat.