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UNC-Wilmington hosting ‘1898 Institute’ to help educators teach about the Wilmington massacre

UNCW is hosting a two-week institute to teach educators about the Wilmington Massacre.
Courtesy of Cara Ward
UNCW is hosting a two-week institute to teach educators about the Wilmington Massacre.

In 1898, a white supremacist mob attacked the thriving Black community of Wilmington. They burned down the Black-owned local newspaper office, overthrew the local government and murdered dozens of community members.

Although it’s widely known as the only successful coup d'etat in America’s history, UNC-Wilmington Professor Cara Ward says many people don’t know much about it.

“For many years, the history of the 1898 coup and massacre was suppressed. It was not talked about, it was not taught about,” Ward said. “And then oftentimes when it did eventually come up, it was portrayed in a very different light for a long time. There were people who referred to it as a race riot, which is really not an accurate depiction of what happened.”

Ward said because of this, many teachers have not had the opportunity to learn much about the event nor had the resources to accurately teach it.

This week, Ward is leading a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute to change that. The two-week program will teach educators about the massacre, as well as its significance in both North Carolina’s and the United States’ history.

25 middle and high school teachers from across the U.S. are enrolled in the program. In it, they will visit landmarks across Wilmington, develop activities for their classrooms, and interact with students, activists and descendants from the community.

Ward said the goal is to give a comprehensive lesson on the massacre’s history.

“Multiple perspectives, multiple lenses – taking a look not only at what happened prior to 1898, but then the lasting impact after 1898,” Ward said. “Of course we want to acknowledge what happened, but we also want to look at that brilliance that existed before and the resilience which came about after – while also at the same time acknowledging the lasting impact.”

One of these lasting impacts is the effect the massacre had on Wilmington’s population. Ward said 56% of Wilmington’s population was Black back in 1898.

Today, nearly 75% of Wilmington’s population is white and 16% is Black.

“Justice was never restored. That coup government remained there — even through the next election cycle,” Ward said. “(That caused) a definite effect on demographics and socioeconomic status.”

The institute started Monday and will last until July 19. After it's over, Ward said materials will be posted online for any teacher to incorporate into their lessons. She hopes the website and institute helps educators feel more comfortable about teaching the Wilmington Massacre in their classrooms.

“I hope the teachers who leave here feel enabled, empowered and confident about teaching difficult histories to their students,” Ward said. “Hopefully, the more people that know about this, the more secure our democracy is. If we know about these difficult things, these tragic things that happened in the past, we can hopefully avoid those in the future.”

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC’s 2024 Fletcher Fellow and covers higher education in partnership with Open Campus.