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Grave of 1898 victim discovered, funeral planned 123 years later

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:33 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It’s been 123 years since the infamous 1898 Wilmington Massacre and the first grave of one of the Black people killed during that tragic day has been discovered.

Joshua Halsey is buried in an unmarked grave in Pine Forest Cemetery off Rankin Street. Members of a non-profit research group called Third Party Project were able to locate his grave after handwritten maps in the Pine Forest registry were digitized.

“When that was digitized, we were able to go through it and start finding some names that were attached to these families,” said John Sullivan of Third Person Project. “Step by step that narrowed down the place where they could have been in the cemetery and then from there we were able to get it from just a meter or so from where the burial is.”

Halsey was just 40 years old when a group of angry white men shot and killed him just outside his home.

“On November 10, 1898, a 40-year-old deaf black man was in his home and his daughter was frightened that the mobsters were coming to get him and in encouraging her father to leave the house, he ran right into the midst of gunfire,” said Linda Thompson, the chief diversity and inclusion officer for New Hanover County.

Halsey was one of an unknown number of African Americans slaughtered by white supremacists who took over Wilmington on Nov. 10, 1898, becoming the only successful coup d’état in United States history. Prior to those events, Blacks made up over 50 percent of Wilmington’s population and controlled local government.

Some of the bodies of victims were never found while others were quickly buried.

“The medical examiner said he was shot multiple times,” Thompson said. “They were so afraid of what would happen if the community knew that Josh Halsey had been murdered, they threw his body in the grave and never talked about it again. No funeral--nothing. In an unmarked grave at a family plot.”

City and county officials, along with the 1898 Commemorative Foundation, will give Halsey a proper funeral on Nov. 6. The pubic is encouraged to line the streets at 3:15 p.m. that day.

“It’s a real funeral, you know, the family is coming,” Sullivan said. “There will be a stone. They’re ancestors buried there who never got a funeral. It’s also a symbolic funeral for the people who died here.”

“What it means to me on Nov. 6 is that Joshua Halsey will get the funeral, first of all that he deserves, and his descendants will be able to say goodbye to him,” Thompson said.

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