Make November 10 a day of reconciliation

LOCAL HISTORY IN CONTEXT

By Gregory DL Morris
Columnist/Correspondent

As Chapel Hill and neighboring communities contemplate the 125th anniversary of the Wilmington Coup this week, the local connection is literally the biggest thing in town. Kenan Stadium was built in 1927 with money from William Rand Kenan, Jr. (UNC Class of 1894), and dedicated to his father. William Rand Kenan, Sr. (attended UNC 1860-63) was a captain in the Wilmington Light Infantry in command of a machine gun squad that was central to the violent overthrow of the city government on November 10, 1898.

In fairness, the extended Kenan family has been major donors to several universities around the state over the years, and much good has come from their generosity. Also, in 2018, the university renamed the stadium after its donor, William Rand Kenan, Jr.

The fact remains, however, that for nine decades, millions of spectators flocked to watch thousands of athletes at a monument dedicated to a violent white supremacist.

The details of the Wilmington Coup were suppressed for decades, but in recent years have been thoroughly documented and are now better known. Wilmington was a prosperous port and among the most integrated, for its time, in the former Confederacy. Still, white businessmen seethed.

When a biracial fusion ticket was elected on Nov. 9, reactionary leaders published what has become known as “The White Declaration of Independence.” The next day they implemented a long-developed plan to seize control of the city, destroy Black businesses – especially the Daily Record newspaper, and kill or drive away Black leaders.

“One of the most intimidating components of the Wilmington Light Infantry was the machine gun squad,” according to the account of the coup published in 2009 by the North Carolina Office of Archives & History (A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, by LeRae S. Umfleet). “Capt. William Rand Kenan and First Lieutenant Charles H. White led the WLI gun squad…The weapon was purchased by local business interests and was mounted on a wagon drawn by two horses.”

William Rand Kenan, Sr., was a port collector and a leader of the Chamber of Commerce.

The machine gun was mostly used for intimidation. Many people in town sought refuge in churches. The official Umfleet account notes that the gun was used to force people out of the sanctuaries so the buildings could be searched. There was one account of the gun being fired into a house, killing three. The gun crew used their rifles to kill as many as 25 Black men in a group at Sixth St. and Brunswick. Estimates of the death toll range widely from less than 20 to more than 200.

Renaming the stadium after the donor was important. But only a first step and long overdue. November 10 should be declared a day of reconciliation by the university and across the state. Not a holiday, but a day of remembrance and service.


Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

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1 Comment on "Make November 10 a day of reconciliation"

  1. It is crazy to think about a machine gun strapped between two horses. Considering how horses respond to loud noises, those are some well trained horses right there!

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