The second time that the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina* made national headlines was the 1st of December, 1898. On that date, a crowd of African Americans, most of whom were migrants from the state of North Carolina, gathered at Association Hall in Brooklyn, N.Y., to protest the Wilmington, N.C., massacre and coup d’etat of 1898.
“The audience was composed chiefly of women and there were not more than six white people present,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on December 2, 1898.
The main speaker that night was the most famous refugee from the Wilmington massacre—the man who, with his brother Frank, was the African American publisher of The Wilmington Record, Alex Manly.
After a local black physician, Dr. William L. Hunter, introduced him, Manly described how the white supremacists had taken over Wilmington, killed black citizens in the streets and driven hundreds out of the city.
The white supremacists had forced Manly to flee for his life, and they had burned the building that housed his newspaper’s office and printing press because of what they considered his incendiary views.
The gathering in Brooklyn that night was actually first planned at a regularly scheduled meeting of African American clergymen from churches in Brooklyn and other parts of Long Island.
That meeting had occurred two weeks earlier, on Nov. 14, 1898, only four days after the massacre in Wilmington.
At that meeting, which occurred at Berean Baptist Church, a discussion of the events in Wilmington was not on the agenda. However, several Brooklyn ministers at the meeting had deep ties to North Carolina’s African American communities and could not contain their rage.
A rather sensational, if not necessarily inaccurate headline in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle summed up the tenor of the meeting: “Negro Pastors Favor Knife, Gun and Dynamite.”
The headline stemmed specifically from the words of the Berean Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Leonard Brown.
According to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Rev. Brown had declared at the meeting:
There is nothing left for the negroes to do but to protect themselves as best they can…. It seems terrible that now, in the late afternoon of the 19th century, when civilization and advancement are at the zenith, the negroes should be slain in cold blood and have no law and protection…. [T]he only thing left for them to do is take up the gun, knife, pistol and dynamite cartridge and protect themselves.
Like so many African Americans across the country, the Rev. Brown was a man wounded to the depths of his being by the news of the Wilmington massacre and he could not hold himself back (not that he should have).
If President McKinley can’t do something and if the governors of Southern states can’t do anything to aide us, we will do it ourselves…. If they [black southerners) are going to die, somebody is going to die with them…When it comes to our lives, we say every man has a right to live, and when it comes to killing, we will sell our lives dearly.
“The fight has not yet ended by any means,” Rev. Brown went on, “and the negroes in the north may be counted upon to aide their brethren in the South.”
I was not able to confirm whether or not the Rev. Brown had a personal connection to Wilmington or other African American communities in North Carolina, though I suspect he did.
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Other ministers at the Berea Baptist Church that day—and also at the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina’s gathering where Alex Manley spoke—certainly did have strong ties to North Carolina.
One of them was the Rev. A. J. Henry, the long-time pastor of the Nazarene Congregational Church (now the Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ) in Brooklyn. In his remarks, the Rev. Henry made clear that he was either from Wilmington or had deep family or other ties there.
In its November 15, 1898 article, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported:
Mr. Henry is personally acquainted with most of the colored men who hold office and who were driven out by ex-Congressman [Alfred] Waddell and his followers after the raid upon [Manley’s] printing office….
Speaking of the colored people who were forced to leave their homes, Mr. Henry stated that they were highly educated men and law-abiding citizens. He knew them personally, he said, and the homes they left represented the accumulation of 30 years [of hard work and saving].
By the end of that meeting at Berea Baptist, the pastors had already planned an organizing meeting on the other side of the East River, at Cooper Union, in Manhattan, as well as laid plans for the mass meeting that would be sponsored by the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina at Association Hall in Brooklyn.
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After Alex Manly spoke that night at Association Hall, the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina (who that day at least were mainly the daughters of North Carolina) passed a series of resolutions. They called for federal intervention in Wilmington, and they called for justice for the victims of the massacre.
They also called for democratic elections back in North Carolina, not yet knowing, of course, that the state’s white citizens would soon pass a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit the large majority of black citizens from voting for most of the 20th century.
On that night in Brooklyn, they collected donations to help Manly get his parents out of Wilmington and settled in the north. All knew that other survivors of the Wilmington massacre would soon be arriving in their city. All knew that Manly’s mother and father would be far from the last survivors of the Wilmington massacre that would need their help.
-To be continued–
* A brief note: I’ve been using the name “Sons and Daughters of North Carolina” to describe all the group’s chapters. However, in its early years, the Brooklyn chapter was actually called just “Sons of North Carolina” (though women were at the forefront of the chapter’s activities). Some chapters of the group went by the one name, some the other and at least one, the Brooklyn chapter, started as “Sons” and later changed its name to “Sons and Daughters.”