A black man who was killed by white supremacists in North Carolina 123 years ago was honored by his descendants during a funeral over the weekend.
Joshua Halsey, 40, was memorialized Saturday at Pine Forest Cemetery in Wilmington, where he had been buried in an unmarked grave after being killed by a militant group of white supremacists during the city’s massacre of 1898, the Wilmington Star-News reported.
Halsey was among at least 60 black men who were murdered as a part of a “carefully orchestrated coup” by white supremacist former Confederate soldiers and police officers in Wilmington, which had a multiracial government on Nov. 10, 1898, according to Time magazine.
Halsey and many other of Wilmington’s black residents hid in swamps around the cemetery during the 1898 massacre — known amongst historians as the only successful coup d’etat in US history.
A nonprofit group called the Third Person Project discovered Halsey’s grave in October after handwritten maps of the cemetery were digitized. John Jeremiah Sullivan, who worked with the group, said the number of other blacks killed will likely never be known since their bodies were tossed in a river or interred privately elsewhere – possibly in a mass grave, the newspaper reported.
Halsey’s grave was the first to be identified of the massacre victims – and there could be as many as 250 others, Sullivan told CNN. A state report from 1998 marking the 100th anniversary of the massacre formally identified just two of them: Halsey and Samuel McFarland.
“We were in shock, because this is so unprecedented,” one of Halsey’s descendants, Elaine Cynthia Brown, told CNN. “But then we said, ‘You know what? Why not Joshua?’”
A horse-drawn hearse carried soil collected from the site of Halsey’s home to Saturday’s funeral, CNN reported. Rev. William Barber II, a co-founder of the Poor People’s Campaign, a group inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., delivered Halsey’s eulogy more than a century after he was murdered.
“We must find the vestiges of systemic racism that are still happening today and that are still going on today,” Barber said. “And we must call them out in Joshua’s name. I’m here to tell you that what killed Joshua is still alive today.”
The funeral was held as part of commemorative events ahead of the massacre’s 123rd anniversary. Barber said during his eulogy that groups in government and media plotted against blacks in Wilmington while being led by the city’s white supremacist mayor, Alfred Moore Waddell.
Armed white men then burned down Wilmington’s only black newspaper, The Daily Record, before setting their sights on black residents, CNN reported.
Barber, meanwhile, compared Waddell to former President Donald Trump during his eulogy Saturday, the Star-News reported.
“He was killed by a charismatic, racist orator who went all around the state and country warning people against ‘Negro domination’ and the dangers of white and black people working together,” Barber said. “In other words, he was killed by a man who would have rallies and rev up people at their rallies with his lies, Sound familiar?”
A tombstone was recently placed at Halsey’s gravesite, but cemetery officials have been aware his remains were in the cemetery for some 25 years, Sullivan told the Star-News.
Gwendolyn Alexis, Halsey’s great-granddaughter, told CNN said she had no idea her family’s past had been directly tied to the Wilmington massacre.
“And when I found that my great-grandfather was killed, one of the people killed, it took my breath away,” Alexis said. “Because not only did I find family, I found history.”