Monday, June 15, 2015

North Carolina: Black Republicans and Fusion Politics of the 1890s

Congressman George H. White was elected during the Fusion period. Image courtesy of "The North Carolina Election of 1898," North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.

One of the most interesting aspects of Populist-Republican Fusion rule was the service of African American office holders.  There were approximately 1,000 elected or appointed black officials, including Congressman George H. White (1852-1918).  Although black Tar Heels were still underrepresented, the presence of black officials troubled Democratic white supremacists.     

In the 1898 “White Supremacy Campaign,” led by future U.S. Senator Furnifold M. Simmons (1854-1940), chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, the Democratic Party used identity politics to regain power.  “Negro rule” and “Negro domination” became the catchphrases of the campaign.  Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, was the unabashed press spokesman for white supremacy. Red Shirts, reminiscent of the Klan, intimidated blacks and thereby limited the number of Republican votes.  

Shortly after a resounding victory, Democrats disfranchised African Americans and thereby ended a possible Republican resurgence.  Democrats, however, realized they must maintain some of the Fusionist education and business policies and thus acquiesced to school funding demands and business regulation; in 1900, emulating Republican-Populist interest in education, Democrat Charles B. Aycock (1859-1912) became the party’s first “Education Governor.”

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