Kinsearching February 21, 2010




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     Genealogy and history are so intertwined that the study of one cannot be separated from the other--a fact that pertains to both scholarly and popular works in these fields. This reality is applicable to local, state, and national events as they, too, affect one another. Comprehending these factors leads to understanding people and happenings in the context of their times, whether or not we agree with them today. LeRae Sikes Umfleet demonstrates the interrelationship among all these components in her excellent new book, A DAY OF BLOOD: THE 1898 WILMINGTON RACE RIOT.

     Proclaimed "A Day of Blood" by the Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper, News and Observer, the significance of those words refers to the events in Wilmington on 10 November 1898. On that date, white rioters murdered blacks in broad daylight and overthrew a legitimately elected Republican government without opposition by the public or intervention by the authorities. The violence (called 'Hell Jolted Loose' in one chapter) led to the city's ever-tightening authority over African Americans, causing them to lose their rights and, in many instances, their lives.

     Neither spontaneous nor isolated, the 1898 riot was the result of a series of events planned by white businessmen to regain control of government on both the local and state levels. Strategists in North Carolina's Democratic Party thrust Wilmington into the spotlight as an example of Republican corruption and bad government, which they blamed on the participation of blacks in local politics. Declared the only successful coup d'tat in United States history, the change in administration on 10 November 1898 completely ended black participation in local government until the advent of the civil rights era.

     In her definitive study, Umfleet reveals the circumstances in Wilmington at the end of the Civil War and under Reconstruction. She then examines the actions that precipitated the riot, gives details of what happened that day, and explains the long-term effect of the upheaval in North Carolina and across the nation. One of the consequences was the exodus--whether involuntarily or willingly--of some of Wilmington's inhabitants, both black and white. The dispersal of a number of the city's residents to other states emphasizes how one incident can influence the movements and lives of individuals, their families, and their descendants.

     Her thorough research and documentation highlight common resources utilized by both genealogists and historians in their research. She gleaned vital information from sources such as censuses, newspapers, city directories, tax and estate records, wills, deeds, and maps to discover family relationships, occupations, and land and business ownerships and to determine the riot's economic impact upon the people and the area. By exploring these materials, she often includes in her discussion details like the Hargraves, Howards, Howes, Norwoods, and Sadgwars being among Wilmington's oldest African American families who passed their trades and skills down through several generations. Her data show another important fact of genealogy and history: Certain families and individuals often associated with other specific families and individuals, whether in church, business, work, or social organizations. These alliances mean events did not occur in a vacuum.

     Umfleet presents case studies of a few major personalities in the text while brief biographical sketches of all key figures of both races appear in an appendix. She furnishes photographs of several of the principal black and white participants and provides lists of the names of the leading conspirators, men banished from Wilmington during and after the riot, and African Americans killed or wounded. Additional information about various individuals and families may sometimes be found in her annotated endnotes.

     Helping to set the stage for the narrative is the attractive front cover with the title in red letters and several illustrations representing aspects of the historical event. Although a scholarly publication, the book is written in a very readable manner so it can appeal to a variety of interested persons. Accompanying the text is a wide assortment of illustrations that make the story even more engrossing. The author brings attention to the 10 November 1898 turning point, displays the interweaving of history and genealogy, and shows the interaction between business, social, and political associates throughout the account. Umfleet is to be commended for her splendid work in A DAY OF BLOOD: THE 1898 WILMINGTON RACE RIOT.

     Containing 288 pages, the glossy softbound book has numerous maps, graphs, drawings, and photographs of people, places, and documents scattered throughout the text. The volume includes a foreword, acknowledgements, an informative introduction regarding sources, two appendices, many annotated endnotes, an extensive bibliography, and a thorough index. Priced at $28.02 (which includes tax and shipping costs), A DAY OF BLOOD: THE 1898 WILMINGTON RACE RIOT may be ordered online at or at It may also be purchased from the Historical Publications Section (N), Office of Archives and History, 4622 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-4622. For credit card orders, call 919-733-7442, extension 0.

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