Socio Cultural Competence and America’s Hidden History

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I attended a social justice workshop the last two days where I was surprised to learn about a successful coup on American soil.  No, it wasn’t on January 6th of 2021 in Washington, DC.  Rather it took place on November 10th, 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina.  I want to share the story with my readers today and then, discuss the importance of this story for Dual Language Education.

Former Confederates, namely nine white men who called themselves the “secret 9” were angry about the biracial, local government that had taken root in Wilmington.  The Republican party, which attracted Black citizens and the Populists, who were comprised of poor, white cotton farmers, had come together in what was known as a Fusion coalition.  The “Fusionists” had formed a local government made up of mostly white men and some Black ones, including three aldermen.  Black citizens also began to hold prominent jobs in the city such as policemen, firemen,  and magistrates, much to the dismay of Democrats. 

The Secret 9 decided to oust this Democratically-elected government and solicited the help of writers – or those who could sway public opinion using the mighty pen, speakers – or those who could do the same verbally, and riders – or those who could provoke fear riding horseback through the city.  The writers and speakers fanned the flames of White supremacy, directing their words at Alex Manly, the editor of Daily Record, Wilmington’s Black newspaper.  Manly had rebutted suffragist (and future senator) Rebecca Latimer Felton’s article in which she claimed that Black men should be lynched because they supposedly raped white women.  Manly, in turn, had written that the reverse was more common (white men raping Black women) and that there were also consensual, biracial relationships.  Manly’s suggestion that there were consensual biracial relationships was enough for writers and speakers to solicit outrage from the white community. In 1898, the “riders,” upon the instructions of Confederate Colonel Alfred Waddell, blocked African Americans from voting by patrolling neighborhoods armed.  The Democrats won all state legislative seats, but Wilmington remained in the hands of a biracial government.

Waddell then rallied 800 white citizens to create the “White Declaration of Independence,” in which they declared that they would “no longer be ruled, and will never again be ruled by men of African origin.”  The next day, a mob of 2,000 white, armed men stormed Wilmington, burned the building housing Daily Record to the ground, stormed Black neighborhoods, killed between 60 and 250 Black citizens, jailed Black leaders before forcibly riding them out of town on trains, and forced the resignation of the Democratically-elected government to be replaced by a white supremacist government. A prosperous town of more than 50% Black citizens was destroyed overnight.  

So why am I, an educator who writes mostly about social justice as it pertains to Dual Language Education writing about this?  One of the pillars of Dual Language Education is academic achievement in both languages.  We ensure that students are successful in their core subjects, Math, Science, Language Arts in both languages, and Social Studies, but who gets to decide what is taught in Social Studies?  Why are stories like these, which shaped the course of American politics and American history, left out of our curriculum?  American History was amongst my favorite subjects both as a student and as a teacher, but never was I taught about this coup, nor did I teach it.  If we are going to help our students become socioculturally competent, we need to include the story of the Wilmington Coup of 1898 in our lessons when we teach about Reconstruction.  We need to include all such atrocities that have shaped American history.  Students need to know about the times that people of color made progress in spite the odds that have been repeatedly and purposefully stacked against them and just as importantly, they need to learn about the times that this progress was violently razed to the ground. This is the only way students can fully understand the racial climate of the United States today so that they are able to take action against injustice as is required by the third pillar of Sociocultural Competence.  

And so I invite you to join me in learning and discovering as much as you can about the untold history that has been hidden from students for so long. It’s time.

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