By Kendall McGee | March 22, 2021 at 5:53 PM EDT – Updated March 22 at 6:54 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Volunteers with the New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project are working to get the entire community involved in a push to honor the victims of the 1898 coup.
It’s a dark part of Wilmington’s history where white supremacists overthrew the city government and killed prominent Black citizens and business owners or drove them from town.
The project aims to shed light on the stories of the victims of 1898 and track down the living relatives of the men and women who experienced the violent insurrection. The overarching goal is to invite them all to a soil ceremony planned for November with the Equal Justice Initiative to remember the lives changed forever by the massacre.
They’re calling for participation months ahead of the ceremony because they want as many people as possible to get involved in the research component.
Nate Brown’s great great-grandfather, Joshua Halsey, was killed in Wilmington’s insurrection of 1898.
It’s a revelation that came after researching his family tree online.
“Truth is always the first part of the process. Can we all face it? Having ancestors that are victims, and having ancestors who are victors in something so sinister?” asked Brown.
Brown was born and raised in New York, but admits seeing his relative’s name printed in old newspaper clippings as a victim of the insurrection was difficult to process.
“It’s different when you see it on paper and when you see it from the viewpoint of the newspapers back then, which had the viewpoint of the insurrectionists — There was a lot of anger and a lot of guilt,” explained Brown.
In addition to the shock and grief, he says reconnecting with his roots has given him a greater appreciation of the struggles relatives like Halsey’s widow, Salley, and her children overcame and has given his entire family closure.
Salley Halsey raised Brown’s grandmother, who he still has many vivid memories of. The family was close knit, and he still remembers how his grandmother and her sister used to make a pot of lima bean soup last for a full week.
“She raised them to be survivors, and they were. You’d see my grandmother at 80 years old walking two and three miles, and I just never understood it until now,” said Brown.
Uncovering the details about his past is a task Brown has proudly taken on; yet despite his efforts, little is known about who Halsey was before the insurrection shook his family’s world.
“I’m still hoping between Ancestry projects and the Remembrance Project, I’m going to devote myself to finding out more about him — he earned that,” said Brown.
People of the New Hanover County Community Remembrance Project hope they can have a similar impact on the lives of thousands of other people still affected today by the insurrection.
“The terror we’re talking about, the victimization were talking about really transcended eight people. Yes, these eight people died, but the whole city — the whole African American community was victimized,” explained lead researcher Tim Pinnick.
In the past, research efforts have been centered around the people who were killed in the uprising or who initiated the massacre, but Pinnick says this project is focused on tracking down everyone who was in Wilmington during the coup, including the people who fled or were forced to stay in the city.
He hopes this effort inspires people to not only tell Wilmington’s stories, but take ownership of them so they can be revered and respected for future generations.
“Someone’s gonna write your history — you can let someone else write it, or you can write it,” said Pinnick.
If you’re interested in getting involved in the research, the group has Zoom sessions planned for each month. You can register by emailing email@example.com with your name and email address.
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