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A 21st-century apology for a 19th-century wrong

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History now has two additional paragraphs—or perhaps footnotes—to add to the awful, bloody chapter on the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898.

Last December, The News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer published an apology along with a special report on the riots that included an examination of the papers' role in the conspiracy and incitements to violence against the African-American community in Wilmington.

Last week, the state Democratic Party Executive Committee met at Elon University and issued its apology in the form of a resolution. Among the resolves:

  • "That the North Carolina Democratic Party both acknowledges and renounces the actions of past Party leaders involved in the events of 1898 and those actions' impact on the State of North Carolina and the United States of America;"

  • "That the North Carolina Democratic Party apologizes to those who were affected by the actions—and their repercussions—of past party leaders...."

The resolution also notes the great changes that have taken place in the party and promises to set up a training program for minority and women candidates and their campaign managers to "ensure diversity on the Democratic ticket."

Coming clean on an ugly chapter of our history doesn't mean the era of racial violence and demagoguery is at an end. In Greenville, the reminder is still there in the smoldering ruins of two African-American churches just as it is in places like Cabarrus County, where English is now the official language, and on talk radio throughout the state beaming exhortations to "do something" about "those people" with all the fervor of the sick men who conspired against the government and people of the city of Wilmington. Fewer epithets, perhaps, but the hate comes through loud and clear just like it was yesterday.

As the nativist cause heats up, it is bound to try to manifest itself in the laws of this state, and if what has happened recently in the legislatures of Georgia and South Carolina are any indication, in the new session there will be efforts aimed at bypassing the long-stalled federal efforts to reform immigration—efforts to force this state and its local governments to take actions that will hard-wire discrimination against anyone with a Hispanic surname or a certain look into our legal system. It won't be the Ed Smiths of the world who will get the extra set of questions from law enforcement or have their identification information challenged in a job interview.

The economic and legal issues are real, but so is the demagoguery and outright racism propelling some of those calling for "reform." Let's hope that a couple of generations down the road, there will be no need to apologize for what was done in these times.

TORTURE INVESTIGATION

Twelve state lawmakers have called on the State Bureau of Investigation to look into reports that Aero Contractors, a Smithfield-based company that flies out of Kinston's Global TransPark and has been linked to the Central Intelligence Agency, have participation in so-called "torture flights" (that's "extraordinary rendition" for you Orwellians out there).

In a letter recently made public by the group Stop Torture Now, the lawmakers ask SBI director Robin Pendergraft to determine if state and federal laws have been broken and say if the participation in the flights is proved, Aero should no longer be permitted to be a client of the TransPark authority.

MEEK RE-ELECTED

It's a natural play on words, so let's hope Jerry Meek isn't tiring of the "Meek inherits" headline. It's misleading, though. The 36-year-old maverick state party chair didn't inherit nothing when he was elected to another term last week—he worked his tail off for it, putting in a lot of long hours on the road and setting up an organizational structure that is much more in touch with grassroots organizers. The improved on-the-ground strategy won elections, particularly in Western North Carolina, and that's the kind of thing that gets you another term.

While Meek's re-election as chair was the big news, there was also some interest in the election of Anson County's Dannie Montgomery as the party's first vice chair. Montgomery chaired Larry Kissell's underdog race in the 8th Congressional District. Kissell has already announced he'll seek a re-match. Whether the ascension of his campaign chair to a high party post means he's got the green light from the state organization is one for the tealeaf readers. But it couldn't hoit.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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