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Black man killed in a massacre finally receives funeral, 123 years later

Joshua Halsey was one of the many victims of the brutal Wilmington massacre of 1898.

Black man killed in a massacre finally receives funeral, 123 years later
Image Source: Wilmington, North Carolina Commemorates The 1898 Wilmington Coup And Race Massacre Honoring Two Victims With Funeral. WILMINGTON, NC - NOVEMBER 06. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

In November 1898, white supremacists conducted a brutal massacre of Black people in Wilmington, North Carolina. Joshua Halsey was one of the many victims of the massacre. Around 123 years after the incident, he has finally received a funeral in his honor. His grave is the first unmarked grave belonging to victims. According to official estimates from the Third Person Project, a historical research group, there are believed to be more than 100 victims. John Jeremiah Sullivan, who worked with the project, shared that there could be as many as 250 victims. Halsey descendants are still reeling from the incident, CNN reports.


"We were in shock, because this is so unprecedented," said Halsey descendant Elaine Cynthia Brown. "But then we said, 'You know what? Why not Joshua?'" She added that the discovery that he was a victim was "surreal" for the family. As per a state report published in 1998, the 100th anniversary of the massacre, two of the victims of the massacre were identified. The two victims included Samuel McFarland and, of course, Halsey. Historians located the unmarked graves and conducted a thorough investigation, which comprised combing through a Black cemetery's records, to identify the two victims.


Brown continued, "Why not be the beacon of what can happen when we sort of unearth the truth, uncover the truth and unpack it? 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." When the massacre first took place, Wilmington was home to a thriving Black community. This community had, among other initiatives, developed a building and loan association and built libraries.


In addition to this, the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission found that members of the Black community were "employed in all segments of the workforce, as professionals, skilled artisans, government employees, maritime crew members, industrial workers, laborers, and domestics." Furthermore, they were part of the city's government that white supremacists set out to destroy. Right after the Democratic Party (the party of white supremacy, at the time) won the national election by intimidating Black voters and tampering with the returns, The Daily Record, Wilmington's Black newspaper, was burned down by armed white men who then began attacking Black people.


As per a timeline of the events by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, "On the same day, local elected officials were forced to resign, and were replaced by white supremacist leaders." The massacre, as many historians note, forever changed Wilmington's culture. Thus, the city of Wilmington and several organizations came together to commemorate the massacre and honor its victims. A horse-drawn hearse carried soil collected from the site of Halsey's home to the funeral. Additionally, Rev. William Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign, a social justice movement inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., gave the eulogy, surrounded by several of Halsey's descendants and a crowd of people, both Black and white.


"We must find the vestiges of systemic racism that are still happening today and that are still going on today," he stated. "And we must call them out in Joshua's name. I'm here to tell you that what killed Joshua is still alive today." Brown added, "Truth is always difficult to talk about, but the more you talk about it, the more it is, you know what I mean? The more you can accept it, the more you can change things, instead of it repeating. So we have to tell the the truth, talk about it and then find ways to deal with this," she said. "So this sort of thing doesn't happen again."


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