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Slave rebellions were reportedly a recurring fear in North Carolina throughout much of its early history.
The first major shock to unsuspecting White North Carolinians came in 1739, during the Stono Rebellion, because it took place miles away from the state’s border in South Carolina. Fearful of the same fate, the insurrection induced North Carolina slaveholders in 1741 to restrict enslaved Africans’ ability to carry guns.
By 1775, Whites in Wilmington had disarmed all Black people entirely, imposed a 9:00 p.m. curfew, and required an oral oath of allegiance from those enslaved.
American Revolution was a new start for some, and more of the same for others
The period between 1775 and 1800 was a turbulent time for North Carolina slave owners, as the American Revolution further destabilized race relations in the state.
Once the United States had won independence from Great Britain and proclaimed “all men were created equal”, many formerly enslaved Africans became involved in social, military, and political pursuits, yet that didn’t stop racist Whites from unrelenting paranoia and violence. For many others, surviving the times would prove to be a challenge.
White fear has always led to paranoia, plotting, surveillance, and death
Historically speaking, the FBI and law enforcement branches have long targeted men like Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton, along with groups like the Black Panther Party and MOVE.
In the present-day, the same is true for the FBI, which was recently caught paying an informant to infiltrate and radicalize the Black Lives Matter chapter in Denver, Colorado.
Similarly paranoid about Black unity back then, a violent posse of Beaufort County Whites once rounded up more than 40 enslaved Africans believed to be plotting an insurrection, including the 2 alleged leaders.
Similarly to the Stono Rebellion, these men reportedly planned to kill White families and burn their houses on July 8, 1775 as they traveled to “Black country” for weapons and a new Black-led government.
It’s reported that in 1798, three men were arrested in Bertie County for planning a revolt of 150 enslaved Africans, each receiving 39 lashes after being found guilty of a high misdemeanor.
North Carolina remained reactive to slave revolts, but not proactive to abolish slavery
Reacting to violent uprisings in the West Indies, especially the bloody Saint Domingue (Haitian Revolution) in 1791, North Carolina would restrict the influx of Caribbean enslaved Africans in 1794.
By 1798, North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe banned the importation of all West Indian enslaved persons.
White panic was especially evident in Bertie County, where 11 slaves were executed. Others were put to death in Hertford, Halifax, Edgecombe, Currituck, Camden, and Perquimans Counties. Altogether, about 19 enslaved Africans were executed in North Carolina, in addition to numerous others reportedly killed by vigilantes and militia.
Neither trials nor investigations produced credible evidence of actual plotting.
Nat Turner’s name carried the weight other Blacks would shoulder
Under the direction of liberator and preacher Nat Turner on 21 Aug. 1831, 59 White men, women, and children would be murdered in Southampton County, Va.
Turner’s revolt elicited waves of North Carolina militia seeking to protect the state from a similar outcome. One group, the Governor’s Guards, reportedly killed 40 enslaved Africans while helping to suppress a rebellion in Cross Keys, Va.
In this climate of heightened fear, paranoid White North Carolinians discovered a suspected uprising in Duplin County, where after hours of torture on Sept. 5, 1831, an enslaved African allegedly confessed to devising the plot.
On October 4, the insurrectionists were to begin marching south to Wilmington, killing White families along the way; on the coast they would be joined by a force of about 2,000 Blacks and blaze a path of destruction on their return north to Fayetteville.
A violent White coup overtook the city of Wilmington and rigged future elections at the same time
According to TIME, White supremacist soldiers and police helped hunt down and kill at least 60 Black men in Wilmington in 1898. The murders were part of a carefully orchestrated coup that toppled a multi-racial government in the South’s most progressive Black-majority city.
As part of the coup, White supremacists banished leading Black and White political allies from Wilmington after forcibly evicting them from office and replacing them with coup leaders.
Militiamen escorted them to the train station at gunpoint. In the weeks after the coup, more than 2,100 African-Americans fled Wilmington, turning a once Black-majority city into a White supremacist beach town.
It was the most successful and lasting coup in American history. It instituted White supremacy as official state policy for half a century and prevented Black citizens from voting in significant numbers until passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Two years before the coup, 126,000 Black men registered to vote in North Carolina. Four years after the coup, the number was 6,100.