In 1898, Wilmington was a thriving port city on the coast of North Carolina. About two-thirds of Wilmington’s population was African American. African Americans were business people who owned barbershops, restaurants, tailor shops, and drug stores. African Americans also held positions as firemen and policemen. Overall, the African American and white races existed peacefully but separately.
Good relations continued until the election of 1896, when the white Democrats lost control of state politics. A group of predominately white Populists and African American Republicans won political control of the state. The white Democrats promised to avenge their defeat at the hands of white Populists and African American Republicans in the election of 1898. Daniel Schenck, a Democratic party leader, warned, “It will be the meanest, vilest, dirtiest campaign since 1876” (the election that ended reconstruction in the South).