Wilmington, N.C., Revisits a Bloody 1898 Day and Reflects

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WILMINGTON, N.C., June 3 — Nobody will ever be certain how many people died the night of Nov. 10, 1898, on the streets, in the marshes where some ran for safety, or in the swift, wide current of the river that has always defined this port city.

"The Cape Fear River could be dammed up with black bodies, but we have no way of knowing just how many," said Lottie Clinton, a retired state port supervisor and 1 of 13 members of a state-appointed panel that studied the night's events for six years. "A lot of people, nobody ever heard from them again, so you just couldn't know whether they ran away and never came back or were killed."

The panel, officially called the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, concluded in a report released this week that what happened was not a riot, but a well-planned insurrection by white businessmen and former Confederate soldiers, mostly Democrats, against a lawfully elected government of fusionists and Republicans, who were mostly black.

Now that the story is told, the report says, somebody has to pay, and it offers broad recommendations for reparation by government and businesses. They include incentives for minority business development in areas that were affected and the easing of barriers to minority home ownership.

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