The Ann Flack Boseman Gallery

 Current Exhibit: Legacy of Protests in Wilmington 


Wilmington North Carolina has a long history of community-driven movements and protests centered around racial injustices. Wilmington’s 1898 coup is an incredibly important moment in Wilmington’s racial history. In response to election results local whites organized to form militias. They violently rioted, terrorizing Black residents and killing others (Zucchino 2020). The Daily Record, Wilmington's Black newspaper, was burnt down along with other businesses that served Blacks. Large numbers of Black community members and families left or were forced out of Wilmington following the violence and aftermath. Wilmington’s once ascending Black middle class was then nonexistent. This history is not as far off as some might think, families of both the perpetrator and victims of the 1898 coup still live in Wilmington. As photographs in this exhibit show, many of the streets and buildings central to the violence still exist and are used by us today. Shadows of the past loom all over Wilmington. On this very campus stand buildings bearing the name Kenan, a constant reminder of the power and dominance of the very people who perpetrated the 1898 massacre.

Suppression of Black voters became imperative to the control Whites had in Wilmington. During the civil rights era White citizens organized to terrorize and threaten Black citizens that tried to vote (Godwin 2000). The Ku Klux Klan was also very active and visible in Wilmington and across the south during this time. New Hanover County’s Sheriff admitted that he and some of his deputies were participating members in the local Ku Klux Klan chapter (Nunn 2015). Following the admission, he was re-elected and served as Wilmington’s Sheriff for another 10 years until 1973. The distrust in Wilmington's police by its communities of color is traceable both to the department’s racist past and present. The WPD was criticized for its militarized response to 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests which aimed to criticize racist policing. As you will see on the gallery walls, this tension between the police and the community was exacerbated when three WPD officers accidentally taped themselves using racial slurs and fantasizing about killing Black residents and were ultimately fired (Elfrink 2020).

Presently movements are beginning to organize to lessen the impacts Black residents still feel from generations of racist discrimination and oppression. Activists are organizing to raise awareness about new laws which will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color, create remembrance and reconciliation processes for Wilmington, and establish more equitable practices. The White organizers of the 1898 coup, which had been honored in the community, are now having their names removed from the schools and parks named after them. Local calls continue to grow for reparations for families of the victims of the 1898 violence. The New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project locates and honors descendants of the 1898 riots. While we recognize these important community achievements, we also believe there is a long way to go to heal this community and reconcile with our past.

The exhibit was made possible by an Applied Learning Grant