Alexander (or Alex) L. Manly (1866–1944) was notable as an African-American newspaper owner and editor in Wilmington, North Carolina in the late 19th century. With his brother Frank G. Manly as co-owner, he published the Daily Record (Wilmington, North Carolina), the state's only daily African-American newspaper and possibly the nation's only black-owned daily newspaper. At the time, the port of Wilmington had 10,000 residents and was the state's largest city; its population was majority black, with a rising middle class.
In August 1898 Manly published a controversial editorial objecting to stereotypes of those black men who were ostensibly lynched for raping white women. He had earlier responded to a feminist woman in Georgia who wrote about African-American males having inappropriate relationships with white women. At this time, white Democrats were inflaming racial tensions and promoting white supremacy in a bid to regain power in the state legislature. They had lost control in the 1894 and 1896 elections to "fusion" candidates supported by a Republican and Populist coalition; these voters also elected Republican Daniel L. Russell as governor in 1896. When biracial fusionist candidates were elected to Wilmington's mayor and council, a secret committee of Democrats conducted the only coup d'état in United States history, now known as the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, and overturned the city government. They also ran the Manly brothers out of town, threatening their lives; a large mob destroyed the printing press and burned down the newspaper offices; out of control, it also attacked black neighborhoods, killing an estimated 30-100 persons and destroying much of what freedmen had built in the city.
The Manly brothers were among the 2100 African Americans who permanently moved out of Wilmington after the riot, resulting in its becoming a majority-white city. The brothers lived briefly to Washington, DC, helped by former Congressman George Henry White. He had moved to the city permanently after North Carolina passed legislation in 1899 to disenfranchise blacks in the state. Alex married Caroline Sadgwar at his house. The Manlys moved to Philadelphia, where they had a family. (Frank Manly moved to Alabama and taught at Tuskegee University.) Alex Manly never fully recovered from his losses, having to support his family as a painter. But, he was politically active, helping found The Armstrong Association, a precursor to the National Urban League, and was a member of the African-American newspaper council.
Alexander L. Manly, called "Alex," was born in 1866 in Wilmington, North Carolina, the largest city in the state by the turn of the century. His parents were both of mixed race: his freedman father was a former slave with African and European ancestry and his mother was a free woman of color before Emancipation. Through his father's paternal line, Manly was a descendant of Governor Charles Manly and his slave Corinne Manly, and had other European ancestry. Among his siblings were brothers Frank G. and much younger Thomas Manly. After attending local schools, Alex Manly attended Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia. He later returned to Wilmington, where he taught Sunday school at Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church.
In 1895, Manly became the owner and editor of the Wilmington Daily Record, the only daily African-American newspaper in the state and possibly the nation. He shared ownership with his brother Frank G. Manly. This progressive newspaper was for blacks in the Wilmington community, and it was heralded as "The Only Negro Daily in the World". The Daily Record advocated for black civil rights, better healthcare, roads, and bicycle paths. Its success attracted white advertisers, and the newspaper and its editors were well respected in Wilmington.
During this time, Wilmington had a majority-black population. Statewide the Republican Party had mostly black members. In 1894 and 1896, the state had three active parties: fusion candidates of the allied Republican and Populist parties (which were respectively composed of mostly black and white members) gained control of the state legislature in the elections, defeating the Democrats. In 1896, Republican Daniel L. Russell was elected as governor as a Fusionist candidate, the first Republican since Reconstruction. In 1898 the fusionist legislature passed a law to expand the franchise for the first time since Reconstruction by lowering property requirements, which benefited the white majority of the state as well as black voters.
But, the Democrats worked to regain political control of the legislature and the state. In 1897 they generated rhetoric about miscegenation to curry votes in the next election cycle. In 1898 they continued to inflame white racial fears and campaigned for white supremacy, suggesting "the Democratic citizenry [should] overthrow political domination and control of the Negro".
Mrs. Rebecca Felton of Georgia gave a speech before the Agricultural Society at Tybee Island, Georgia, in which she spoke out in favor of broad use of lynching of African-American men in order to "protect" white women. She suggested that blacks preyed on white women as sexual victims. Clawson published her speech in the Wilmington Messenger.
Manly responded in an August 18, 1898 editorial in his Daily Record, saying that white men were hypocrites for protecting their white women while seeking to "destroy the morality of ours." He noted that whites had long preyed sexually on black women, both during slavery and since the Civil War, as white men often held economic and political power over black women in the segregated society.
He generated great controversy by referring openly to miscegenation in South Carolina society, noting flaws in the white double standard of assuming black "rape" in all relationships of black men with white women. He said that consensual relationships took place between white women and black men. When ended, sometimes "rape" was declared. Referring to another social fact that many whites wanted to ignore, he said that many "black" men were in fact of mixed race, with white paternal ancestry. Alluding to studies by black journalist Ida B. Wells, he argued that the stereotype of the "Big Burly Black Brute" punished in lynchings was incorrect, and that many black men lynched were not only mixed race with European ancestry, but were "sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them, as is very well-known to all."
Manly's opinion piece was re-published in white papers, including the Wilmington News and The News and Observer in Raleigh. It also gained national attention, in a year when North Carolina racial tensions were already high, inflamed by the Democratic campaigns for the pending election. Democrats were promoting white supremacy and exaggerating racial fears related to miscegenation to bring out their supporters. Manly’s comments about interracial relationships were controversial and unwelcome in the segregated society, although most in the white community were well aware of the many relationships that white men had with black women, including some men who kept second families with their mixed-race children. Thomas Clawson, a white local businessman and editor of The Wilmington Messenger, claimed that Manly's editorial "made Wilmington seethe with uncontrollable indignation, bitterness, and rage." Critics described Manly's article as slanderous and degrading to white women.
Democrats capitalized on Manly's editorial, claiming that "as long as fusion remains, Negro men would continue preying on white women". Clawson published Manly's article daily in his newspaper in the weeks leading up to the November 9th election and other newspapers also repeatedly published it in the two months leading up to the election. Additionally, Democrats carried copies of Manly’s editorial with them to generate controversy in conversations and to strengthen their appeal. The editorial became so controversial that the struggling Republicans claimed that the Democrats, not Manly, had written it.
Democrats were successful in regaining control of the state legislature in the election on November 9, 1898. Much of the state was watching the outcome of elections in Wilmington, the largest city and with a majority-black population. A secret committee of white Democrats led by Alfred Waddell had already planned the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 if they lost local offices and control of the city government. In 1898 a biracial fusion ticket won the mayor's office and control of the city council: the mayor and two-thirds of the aldermen were white. Democrats initiated their insurrection.
Democrats were determined to overthrow the city government after losing the election. A group of white supremacists, known as the Committee of Twenty-five, first decided to remove publisher Manly from Wilmington by force. They also had already identified numerous black leaders whom they wanted to expel from the city, including the Manly brothers. The Committee gave leaders of the black community an ultimatum: the Manly brothers would have to be gone from the city by 10am on November 10, or else they would be forcefully removed.
But on the night of November 9, a "pre-arranged lynching party" went to the Daily Record to find Manly. They had declared him an outlaw to be killed on sight. According to an 1898 account, when the men arrived, they found 200 armed Negroes at the newspaper to help protect the Daily Record and the Manly brothers. The brothers fled town that night. While there is debate about how Alex and Frank Manly left Wilmington, by November 10, the brothers had left the city. A large white mob of more than 1500 people destroyed the printing press and burned the offices of the Daily Record to the ground.
Manly sought shelter with black US Congressman George Henry White from North Carolina. For a time Manly served in his office and wrote civil rights legislation, which White was unable to get through Congress.
Personal life and later career
While in the capital, Alex Manly married his fiancee Caroline Sadgwar, a graduate of Fisk University and a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The couple were wed at the home of North Carolina Congressman George Henry White. He had moved permanently to Washington, DC, after North Carolina passed a suffrage amendment in 1899 that created barriers to voter registration and excluded most black voters from the political system. White had announced that he would not run for a third term under such conditions. He built a law practice in the capital and also became a highly successful banker. In 1906 he moved to Philadelphia, founding a bank there and a black residential community in New Jersey.
Manly and Sadgwar had become engaged in Wilmington. She was also of mixed race, the daughter of Frederick Cutlar Sadgwar, a prominent mixed-race businessman in the black community of Wilmington, and his Cherokee wife. Caroline's paternal grandfather David Elias Sadgwar was of mixed race, with a white father who was a French sea captain. David became a carpenter, and taught his trade to Frederick. After the war Frederick completed his education at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. He returned to Wilmington and developed as a leader in the business community.
Together, the Manlys moved from Washington, DC to Philadelphia. They had two sons born in Philadelphia: Milo and Lewin. Milo Manly became an activist and fought for black property rights in Wilmington; he later became executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
In Philadelphia, Alex Manly became a member of an African-American newspaper council. He helped found The Armstrong Association, a precursor to the National Urban League. He suffered from losing his newspaper and worked as a painter to support his family.
His sons were marked by the family's losses as well, and descendants have said the family frequently talked about "what might have been" if Alex Manly had not been run out of Wilmington and lost his newspaper business. But, Manly and his descendants persisted and were described as "among Philadelphia’s most industrious and civic minded citizens Lewin Manly was less successful than his brother. He did not finish college and worked as a waiter in Savannah, Georgia. He married but was later divorced. But his namesake son, Lewin Manly, Jr., became a successful dentist. When a Commission was appointed to study what is now known as the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, Lewin Manly, Jr. was among those who favored compensation to descendants of victims for property and economic losses.
- 1994, the site of Manly's newspaper, Daily Record, is marked by a historical plaque that includes information about him and the insurrection of 1898, noted as a turning point in state history.
- A small collection of Manly's papers, including photographs of him and his brother, and his wife and son Milo, is held at East Carolina University.
- Manly is discussed in The North Carolina Election of 1898, Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Eric Frazier, "Lewin Manly: The injustice we never forget", Charlotte Observer and News, 19 November 2006, accessed 29 July 2014
- Umfleet 2009, p. 61
- Umfleet 2009, 61.
- Clawson 1898, 2.
- "Photo: Alex Manly and his brother Frank," c. 1898, Alex L. Manly Papers, East Carolina University
- Miller 1991
- Edmonds 1979, p. 159.
- Clawson 1898, p. 2
- Edmonds 1979, 5.
- Clawson 1898, 1
- Frazier 2006
- Litwack 1999, 123
- Branan 2016, p. 102
- Hayden 1936, 13
- "August 18, 1898: Wilmington Record Editorial", The North Carolina Election of 1898, University of North Carolina, accessed 30 July 2014
- Hayden 1936, p. 13
- Edmonds 1979, p. 147
- Clawson 1898, p. 8
- Clawson 1898, p. 2
- Edmonds (1979), p. 5
- Edmonds (1979), p. 6
- Edmonds (1979), p. 148
- Clawson (1898), p. 4
- Clawson (1898), p. 2
- Clawson 1898, 3
- Umfleet 2009, 77
- Clawson 1898, 8
- Hayden 1936, p. 13n
- Clawson 1898, p. 9
- Clawson 1898, 9
- "Chapter 5", 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission Report, North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources
- Umfleet 2009, 184
- "Photo: Alex Manly and wife, Caroline Sadgwar Manly, c. 1925", Alex L. Manly Papers, East Carolina University
- "Sadgwar Family Home", African American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington, 2009, accessed 17 March 2016
- Miles 2012
- "Photo: Alex Manly and family," c. 1900, Alex L. Manly Papers, East Carolina University
- "Photo: Milo Manly," n.d., Alex L. Manly Papers, East Carolina University
- Umfleet 2009, 154
- Edmonds 1979, p. 177n.
- Alex L. Manly Papers, 1898-1899, East Carolina University
- Photo of Alex Manly as a young man is part of John Henry William Bonitz Papers, 1863-1973
- 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, North Carolina Office of Archives & History, 2006
- Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy, University of North Carolina Press, 1998
- Alex L. Manley Papers (65), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina.
- Bonitz, John Henry William, 1839-1913. John Henry William Bonitz Papers, 1863-1973.
- Branan, Karen. The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth, New York: Atria Books, 2016 ISBN 978-1-4767-1718-0
- Clawson, Thomas W., active 1898. Thomas W. Clawson Papers, 1898 manuscript.
- Edmonds, Helen G. 1979. The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901, New York: Russell and Russell. (partial preview online)
- Frazier, Eric. "Ghosts of 1898," The News and Observer, State Edition, 17 November 2006.
- Hayden, Harry. 1936. The Story of the Wilmington Rebellion, Unpublished manuscript, Wilmington, N.C.: H. Hayden.
- Litwack, Leon F. (1999). Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (1st ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-375-70263-1.
- Miller, Daniel, ed. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. s.v. "Alex Manly."
- Miller, Margaret. "Public Archives: Alex Manly", New Hanover County Public Library, 2012.
- Umfleet, LeRae. 2009. A Day of Blood: the 1898 Wilmington Race Riots. Raleigh: North Carolina office of Archives and History. (Report of the 1898 Race Riot Commission)
- Biography and photo: Alex Manly, at NC Election of 1898, Library, University of North Carolina (includes photograph of Manly)
- Biographical Sketches: Alex Manly, Official Report of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission, State of North Carolina
- "Alex Manly", North Carolina Historical Marker
- Lucy Burnett, "Manly, Alex (1866-1944)", Black Past website