Artists to Lead Workshops on Violent Chapter in Wilmington’s History

CONTACT: Sarah Rogers
(919) 660-3035

WILMINGTON, N.C. — A group of professional artists will lead free workshops on Saturday, March 4 in Wilmington, N.C., inviting youth and adults to contemplate one of the most troubling and consequential events in the state’s history — the violent overthrow of Wilmington’s democratically elected government by white supremacists in November 1898.

Formerly called a “race riot” and now more commonly understood as a massacre and coup d’état, this event had a lasting impact on Wilmington and the state of North Carolina — especially its African American citizens, who struggled under segregation laws and disenfranchisement for generations afterwards.

An armed mob stands in front of the office of the Daily Record in Wilmington in November 1898. After burning the office of the Black newspaper, the mob took to the streets, killing African Americans. Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum of History and Science.

“Histories like Wilmington 1898 haven’t been taught enough and are not widely known,” said Charlie Thompson, a convener of the workshops. “The history of the African American experience in this country is becoming more contested. We need to face the truth, all of the truth, and do it in a way that’s approachable.”

Thompson is one of the co-directors of America’s Hallowed Ground, a project that uses the arts to help deepen the public’s understanding of sites bearing the imprint of histories like Wilmington’s. It is funded by the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, where Thompson is a professor and senior fellow.

The other co-director is Mike Wiley, an award-winning theater artist who widely performs one-man shows depicting key figures in African American history.

“Folks often avoid difficult histories because of their inability to face certain hard truths,” said Wiley. “For 22 years, I’ve used the age-old art of storytelling and theater to make some of history’s hardest truths bearable. To me, this is the greatest gift we gain from art: universal understanding.”

The workshop leaders represent a wide variety of art forms, from songwriting to painting to playwriting. They include Peabody Award-nominated radio producer John Biewen, muralist and North Carolina Heritage Award-winner Cornelio Campos, and North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green.

The artists will guide small groups of participants in creating artistic responses to Wilmington 1898. Spaces are available for youth aged 12-17 and adults aged 18 and older.

The first thirty students aged 12-17 to register will receive a free copy of “Crow” by Barbara Wright. The first thirty adults to register will receive a free copy of “Wilmington’s Lie” by David Zucchino, a DVD copy of “Wilmington on Fire” by workshop leader Christopher Everett, and a poster of “Wilmington on Fire II.” Partnering bookstores Pomegranate and Roasted Bookery will provide the books. Wheelz Pizza will provide lunch for all workshop participants.

Through a partnership with Carolina K-12, teachers can request Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credit for participating.

The workshops will take place at partnering organization DREAMS, which provides free-of-charge arts programming to young people and their families in the Wilmington area.

Through these workshops and the America’s Hallowed Ground project, Thompson and Wiley hope to promote artistic response as a tool to help communities understand and heal from difficult histories that still impact the present day.

“We hope that the communal sharing of these stories will allow the memory of those lost to live on,” said Wiley.

For more information and to sign up, visit the event page on the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ website (dukeethics.org).