Joshua Halsey, a Black man murdered during the November 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina massacre by white supremacists, was finally honored with a funeral, almost one and one quarter century later.
Halsey’s unmarked grave is the first identified of the victims from the massacre. The Third Person Project, a historical research group, says there are thought to be more than 100. John Jeremiah Sullivan, who worked with the project, told CNN there could be as many as 250 victims.
Halsey’s identity was made possible via a combination of locating unmarked graves and researching Black cemetery records. A state report from 1998 – the 100th anniversary of the massacre – identified two of the victims of the massacre, including Halsey and a man named Samuel McFarland.
Elaine Cynthia Brown, a Halsey descendant, labeled the discovery as "surreal' for her family.
"We were in shock, because this is so unprecedented," she told CNN. "But then we said, 'You know what? Why not Joshua?'
"Why not be the beacon of what can happen when we sort of unearth the truth, uncover the truth and unpack it?” she added. “You know, this is where it's going to start and the stories are going to come out as more victims are found, and we hear their stories. But we now know that it exists. We now know that we can change it. We now are getting the true history of what happened here."
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The ceremony is part of a series of events planned from Nov. 1-10 by the county, the City of Wilmington and numerous organizations to commemorate massacre victims and their families.
At the time of the massacre, Wilmington, similar to Tulsa in the 1920s, had a thriving Black community that had formed a building and loan association, built libraries and had many “employed in all segments of the workforce, as professionals, skilled artisans, government employees, maritime crew members, industrial workers, laborers and domestics," the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission found.
Black people were also part of the city’s government before white supremacists destroyed it. The commission found that the Democratic Party, which was heavily backed by white supremacists at the time, won the county’s election by Black voter intimidation and tampering with the returns. Subsequently, armed white men burned down Wilmington’s Black newspaper and began attacking Black people.
Historians often cite the Wilmington Race Massacre as the only violent coup d'etat in the United States as it changed the city’s culture forever.
"The events of the 1898 coup marked a turning point in the post-Reconstruction South that changed the trajectory of race relations in North Carolina and marked the start of Jim Crow laws in the state, which further enforced racial segregation through the mid-20th century," a guide of the events published by the William Madison Randall Library of the University of North Carolina Wilmington reads, according to CNN.