The Whitest Insurrections of All Time

Illustration for article titled The Whitest Insurrections of All Time
Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

“A riot is the language of white people”
— History

Insurrection is different from terrorism.

Although the two are not mutually exclusive, terrorism is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims,” while insurrection is “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” A terrorist hopes a bomb will affect political change. An insurrection is the bomb.

The Coup Klutz Klan lynch mob that tried to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, 2021, employed terrorism as a tool to overthrow the government of the United States. They were terrorists and they were insurrectionists.

And no, it was not the first insurrection since 1812.

U.S. history is pockmarked with instances of Americans rebelling against the American government. Although other groups have tried, (the Black Seminole Rebellion, the Taos Revolt), Team White People is the reigning national champions of insurrections. The most recent attempt to overturn an election—the foundation of the American government—is not the first time America’s most privileged class resorted to terrorism to reinforce white supremacy.

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To provide context, we decided to list six of the most infamous white insurrections.

6. Dorr’s Rebellion: The Big Payback

By 1841, Rhode Island was the only state that didn’t enjoy universal white male suffrage. So a new movement, led by minister Thomas Wilson Dorr, organized their own constitutional convention to remove the property rights requirement for voters. The supporters claimed to represent the disenfranchised, the underserved and the...

Whoa, whoa, whoa...What are Black people doing here?

Rhode Island’s free Black population had also been organizing for the right to vote in 1841, so they figured they’d show up. Dorr, an abolitionist, agreed that there was “no system of political ethics in which rights are based on the complexion of the skin.” But, to appease the white people in the suffrage movement, Dorr kicked out the Black suffragists and inserted the word “white” into the language of their proposed constitution. Then he prepared for a fight.

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Dorr assembled his own militia, attacked an arsenal in Providence and stole a cannon. He tried to fire at the opposing forces but the cannon wouldn’t work, so Dorr fled to New York and assembled a larger militia. Rhode Island’s governor raised his own militia to fight the Dorrites. But, of course, rich white landowners weren’t known for their fighting prowess and most of the poor Irish immigrants were on Dorr’s side. Meanwhile, Dorr was on the attack. He marched back to Rhode Island ready for war. When he encountered the governor’s forces, they braced for impact and...

Nothing happened.

The Dorrites gave up.

Dorr took one look at the governor’s forces and realized that he had been outsmarted and outnumbered because the governor pulled a brilliant move. The white landowners had convinced Black Rhode Islanders to join their side. There was no way a ragtag group of white immigrants was going to beat those Africans.

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Rhode Island agreed to erase the landowner requirement from the state constitution but specified that naturalized citizens still couldn’t vote. White immigrants, like the Irish Catholics who took up arms against the government, wouldn’t be able to vote until after the Civil War.

In September 1842, Rhode Island became the first state to constitutionally guarantee suffrage for Black men.

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5. The Original 33: The First Freaknik

After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau, under the protection of the U.S. Army, helped newly freed slaves in Georgia register to vote. Because of the large number of registered Black voters, Georgia Republicans elected three Black state senators and 30 state representatives in 1868. White supremacists flocked to Georgia to intimidate Black voters and, in early September, white Georgians expelled the “Original 33.”

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Two weeks later, on Sept. 19, Black voters marched 25 miles to hear a former Freedman Bureau worker running for Congress speak in Camilla, Ga. The political rally was also a protest against the ousting of the Original 33. As the group approached Camilla, white residents insisted that the Black marchers leave their weapons on the edge of town.

When the political rally goers refused, (Did I mention whites had been roaming the countryside killing Black people?) the town’s white residents—not the Klan, not the White League, just all the white people—laid in wait and opened fire from doorways and rooftops. After the ambush, they hunted the rest down, even throwing a Black woman into a well. Many of the protesters were “shot repeatedly while lying wounded on the ground.”

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But it worked.

Only two Black people showed up to a polling place in Camilla for the November election.

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It happened all across the state. When Black voters did show up, white poll workers changed their votes or simply threw them away. Because of this, white Democrats were able to take over the legislature and rewrite the constitution, including Black codes, which officially banned them from voting.

The incident was so egregious that Georgia’s admission to the Union was revoked, making Georgia the first and only state to be kicked out of America twice for being too racist.

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The Original 33 were never reseated and the Camilla Massacre was finally recognized...

In 1998.

4. The Kirk-Holden War: The Original Caucasian Coup

On Feb. 26, 1870, over 100 members of the Ku Klux Klan dragged Wyatt Outlaw, a Black town commissioner, out of his bed and hung him in front of the Alamance, N.C., courthouse. On his neck was a sign explaining: “Beware you guilty both white and Black.” Their goal was to “enforce the subordination of former slaves and punish whites and Blacks who threatened the white racial hierarchy.”

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Three months later, State Senator John Stephens was taken to the courthouse basement where a group of white supremacists put a rope around his neck, slit his throat, stabbed him and left him on a pile of wood in the bottom of the courthouse. The campaign of racial terror lasted until Governor William Holden organized two regimens of the state militia, led by Union Officer George W. Kirk, to fight a war with the Klan that lasted three months. In the end, Kirk arrested over 100 white North Carolinians for their lynching campaign, including a district judge, a sheriff, a congressman and an original organizer of the KKK.

North Carolina’s Supreme Court eventually ruled that Holden had no right to suspend habeas corpus—the Constitutional protection against being detained or arrested illegally. Holden was impeached, ejected from office and “obliged” to leave the state forever. Kirk was arrested but escaped to freedom.

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The Kirk-Holden War would not be North Carolina’s last successful coup.

3. Louisiana’s Race War

After the Civil War, Confederate states initiated a campaign of racial terrorism against Black people that was so furiously violent, Congress decided that the Southern states should apply to rejoin the Union by submitting new constitutions. States like Louisiana tried to constitutionally enshrine “Black Codes” that discriminated against Black citizens. However, according to federal law, this was illegal because the racist laws were written by Confederate legislators, who were technically guilty of treason and, therefore, were not eligible to hold office.

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On June 30, 1866, Republicans reconvened Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention to address the “Black Codes” that were recently passed by the state legislature. When Black residents paraded to the Mechanic’s Institute to show their support, former Confederates were waiting.

In his book Grant, historian Ron Chernow writes:

The whites stomped, kicked, and clubbed the black marchers mercilessly. Policemen smashed the institute’s windows and fired into it indiscriminately until the floor grew slick with blood. They emptied their revolvers on the convention delegates, who desperately sought to escape. Some leaped from windows and were shot dead when they landed. Those lying wounded on the ground were stabbed repeatedly, their skulls bashed in with brickbats. The sadism was so wanton that men who kneeled and prayed for mercy were killed instantly, while dead bodies were stabbed and mutilated

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Because of the New Orleans Massacre, ex-Confederates lost their right to vote and politicians associated with the slaughter were banned from holding office. But the insurgents successfully delayed Louisiana’s constitutional convention.

  • Between Sept. 29 and Nov. 3, 1868, the White Knights of the Camellia killed hundreds of Black people in St. Landry Parish during the Opelousas Massacre.
  • In March 1873, the Crescent City White League gathered an army of 8,000 men, mostly Confederate soldiers, and declared war against about 3,500 police officers and state militia members in New Orleans.
  • On April 13, 1873, white supremacists in Red River Parish, afraid that they were outnumbered by Black voters, gathered an army and murdered a lot of Black people—no one knows how many. A congressional report on the Colfax Massacre named 81 Black men by name, but witnesses report dozens of corpses had been thrown into the Red River. Some were secretly buried and others’ bodies were burned.
  • In August 1874, Thomas Floyd, a veteran and state senator was murdered by the White League in Coushatta. Within hours, thousands of members of the White League converged on the town to slaughter Black voters. Several other Republicans—Black and white—were arrested and allowed to leave the state if they signed documents announcing they would give up their political positions. They were then murdered as they left.
  • On Sept. 14, 1874, the Crescent City White League gathered an army of 5,000 men, mostly Confederate soldiers, and declared war against about 3,500 police officers and state militia members in New Orleans. The Battle of Liberty Place effectively ended Reconstruction.
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In each of these events, Union troops eventually restored order. But in 1873, the white supremacists set up their own alternative government that ruled most of the state until 1877. Essentially, the Black part of New Orleans was ruled by the duly elected Republican legislature and the rest of the state was run by the “alternative” Democratic insurgents.

In 1891, the city erected a new monument to the “Battle of Liberty Place,” that read:

McEnery and Penn having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people were duly installed by this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant-Governor Antoine (colored). United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state.”

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The violence in Louisiana finally ended when the Compromise of 1877 allowed Southern states the freedom to treat Black people as they wished.

“As they wished” became known as “Jim Crow.”

2. The Wilmington Insurrection: The War Against BDE

Although much has been written about the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, most sources find a way to euphemize the events’ true cause:

Fear of Black penis.

Leading up to North Carolina’s 1898 election, Wilmington was a majority-Black town where African Americans held political positions and economic power. While North Carolina politics was dominated by white Democrats, poor white farmers in Wilmington sided with Black Republicans and formed the Fusion Coalition on a platform of free public education and voting rights for Black men.

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Nine white men, upset with being subject to “negro rule,” started a campaign to unseat the Fusionists, declaring: “North Carolina is a WHITE MAN’S STATE and WHITE MEN will rule it, and they will crush the party of Negro domination beneath a majority so overwhelming that no other party will ever dare to attempt to establish negro rule here.” Another of the Secret Nine declared that the election would be the “meanest, vilest, dirtiest campaign since 1876. The slogan of the Democratic party from the mountains to the sea will be but one word ... ‘Nigger’!”

They declared that Wilmington’s white minority needed to unite and enforce the law through lynching if they wanted to stop the city’s epidemic of Black men raping white women. To reinforce their point, they pointed to a recent speech by Rebecca L. Felton, a prominent feminist in Georgia, who, in August 1897, spoke to the Georgia Agricultural Society about the problems faced by white farm wives.

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Of all the problems that existed, Felton expressed the most concern for the nonexistent plague of white women being raped by ravenous Black men, explaining: “If it needs lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from the ravening human beasts—then I say lynch, a thousand times a week if necessary.”

Alexander Manly, who owned The Daily Record, Wilmington’s only Black newspaper, decided to refute the allegation.

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If ever the complex that would later become known as “Big Dick Energy” existed, Alex Manley was a prime example. In his editorial, Manly pointed out that Wilmington was filled with mixed-race children because white men were, more often than not, the interracial rapists. He refuted Felton’s claims by countering that white women were really having consensual sex with Black men because they couldn’t be sexually satisfied by white men.

“Meetings of this kind go on for some time until the woman’s infatuation, or the man’s boldness, bring attention to them, and the man is lynched for rape,” wrote Manly. “Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big burly, black brute,’ when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only not ‘black’ and ‘burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all.

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“Don’t ever think that your women will remain pure while you are debauching ours,” Manly added. You sow the seed — the harvest will come in due time.”

Knowing that the editorial would cause chaos, a few prominent Black leaders got together and suggested that Manly leave town for a while.

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They were right. White Wilmington was furious. After holding a political rally that was literally called the “White Supremacy Convention,” the white residents loaded the ballot box with fake votes and warned African Americans what would happen if they voted. By election day, many Black Wilmingtonians had decided not to vote, hoping to avoid violence.

The Fusion Party won anyway.

On the morning of the election, the white supremacy party issued a “White Declaration of Independence” and demanded that Black residents of Wilmington hand over Manly or make him leave town in 12 hours. They also declared that their superior intelligence should be recognized by allowing them to be in charge, regardless of votes. The Black leaders wrote a letter explaining that they were just as outraged by Manly’s editorial as everyone else. They hadn’t even voted, so it must have been white people who wanted the Fusion party to remain in power. Plus, they had already sent Manly on his way, so there was no need for violence.

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The next morning, 500 white Wilmingtonians went to the armory, armed themselves and burned down the office of Manly’s newspaper. By the time they reached the Black section of town, the mob had grown to 2,o00. After killing a few Black people on the way, they forced the Fusionist mayor and aldermen to resign at gunpoint. As Blacks fled the city, the terrorists dragged the most prominent Black businessmen to the train station and, in front of a crowd of applauding white people, forced them to board the train.

Since that day, Wilmington has been a majority-white town ruled by a white majority.

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1. Whitekanda: The Secret Slave Empire

If Donald Trump is impeached and ousted from office, it will partly be because of Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

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Perhaps the most famous use of the “treason cause” involved Aaron Burr, a former vice president who was tried and acquitted for treason when he tried to get a group of slave owners to make him emperor of his own “Western Empire.” But Aaron Burr would not even be the last. American history is replete with instances of men who tried to start their own white supremacist country (the Civil War, for instance).

William Walker actually succeeded.

Walker was a child prodigy who had graduated from law school at 14 and finished medical school at the age of 19. Then he bought a newspaper. But William Walker was also crazy. He fought in duels and had crazy ideas. In 1850, as the abolition movement began to spread, Walker began traveling the country convincing slave owners in Tennessee and Kentucky that they could raise their own army, take over parts of Central America and Mexico and start their own slavery empire called “the Republic of Sonora.”

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In 1853, Walker captured the Mexican city of La Paz. Because of the limited supply of marketing teams, Walker called his new state “Lower California” but placed it under the laws of Louisiana because Louisiana allowed slavery. After capturing parts of California’s Baja peninsula, Walker was forced to retreat. When he was put on trial, he argued that the concept of Manifest Destiny was not the exclusive right of the government.

He was acquitted in eight minutes.

In 1855, Walker invaded Nicaragua and actually gained control of the country. Nicaragua had recently gained its independence from Spain and Mexico but lost to Walker’s private army. After his July 12, 1856, presidential inauguration, Walker reinstituted slavery and made English the official language. The U.S. only got involved because Walker’s forces were holding their own against a coalition of Central American countries. He remained president for nearly a year, until May 1, 1857, when he surrendered to the U.S. Navy.

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Inspired by Walker and slavery’s impending doom, a number of men organized to try to start their own slave states, the most powerful of which were the Knights of the Golden Circle.

Originated “at Lexington, Kentucky, on the fourth day of July 1854, by five gentlemen who came together on a call made by Gen. George Bickley” the group proposed to build a 2,400-mile slaveholding empire in a “golden circle” that included the southern United States, the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America. Half of President James Buchanan’s administration was involved.

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When a congressional commission discovered that Secretary of War John Floyd was moving weapons to start the process, including ordering soldiers to abandon Fort Sumter, the site of the Civil War’s first battle, he was indicted for treason, but the charges were dismissed. Some of the most prominent members were Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and notorious bank robber Jesse James.

But the most infamous member of the Knights was the man whose gun would change the course of history: John Wilkes Booth.

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But perhaps the most resounding legacy of the Whitekanda movement was started by William Walker’s nickname. When he attempted to establish his white supremacist empire, Central Americans began referring to him by the Spanish word for “pirate” or filibustero. As his exploits became famous, they applied Walker’s nickname to all of these American insurgent “adventurers.” After the Civil War, politicians began applying the term to obstructionist legislators who “pirated debate or overthrew the usual order of authority.”

And that’s why white supremacist insurrectionist William Walker is known as “the filibuster.”

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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DISCUSSION

hoat-t-goat
Assistant Chewbacca Consultant

Christ, I’d heard of some of these events, but the “New Orleans Massacre” is just terrifying.

I wonder if Louisiana still has that monument up, the one with the words “usurper” and “carpetbagger” emblazoned on it.