White supremacists killed Joshua Halsey 123 years ago, but his legacy continues to live through the efforts of his descendants, historians and activists.
Halsey was just 40 years old when he and what are thought to be more than a hundred victims were murdered by white supremacists during the 1898 massacre of a successful Black community in Wilmington, N.C. The victims were later buried in unmarked graves.
Halsey’s grave was rediscovered by the nonprofit group Third Person Project last month after handwritten maps of the grounds were digitized. On Saturday, he was given a funeral as part of a weekend of events to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy.
Rev. William Barber II, a co-founder of the Poor People’s Campaign, delivered the eulogy in the rain at Pine Forest Cemetery, according to Star News Online. Halsey’s descendants attended, some of whom just found out they were related to him.
“We have to do something more than just stand out here in the rain and hold hands. We’ve got to listen to the blood,” he said. “The only way to honor Joshua and all those who were murdered like him is to understand we don’t heal because we have a funeral. We heal when we listen to their voices.”
Here’s more, from CNN:
At the time of the massacre, Wilmington — like Tulsa, Oklahoma, before the massacre there — had a thriving Black community that had formed a building and loan association, built libraries. They “were 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 even part of the city’s government that White supremacists set out to destroy. Shortly after the Democratic Party — the party of White supremacy at the time — won the county’s election by intimidating Black voters and tampering with the returns, according to the commission, armed White men burned down The Daily Record, Wilmington’s Black newspaper and then began attacking Black people.
“On the same day, local elected officials were forced to resign, and were replaced by white supremacist leaders,” according to a timeline of the events by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
What happened in Wilmington was the first successful violent coup d’état in United States history.
Halsey is one of the only two victims that have been identified in the past century. CNN reports that on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, Halsey and Samuel McFarland were named in a state report in 1998.
“We must find the vestiges of systemic racism that are still happening today and that are still going on today,” Barber said, according to CNN. “And we must call them out in Joshua’s name. I’m here to tell you that what killed Joshua is still alive today.”