Asheville Archives: ‘White supremacy made permanent,’ 1900

A CONTINUED PRESENCE: OnJune 26, 1900, Asheville's Young Men's White Supremacy club held its inaugural meeting. Twenty-four years later, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in downtown Asheville. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

Editor’s note: Amid current discussions about race relations in America and in Western North Carolina and in light of a recent event that looked at social and political attitudes around the time the region’s Confederate monuments were raised (see “Monumental Decisions” Jan. 31, Xpress), we present this historical look at perspectives on race in 1900. Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation as well as antiquated and offensive language are preserved from the original documents.

African-American men first exercised their right to vote in the 1868 election. By 1870, this right was adopted into the U.S. Constitution under the 15th Amendment. Tension surrounding its passage continued throughout the final three decades of the 19th century, often resulting in violence and death. By 1898, the Democrats, who at the time identified as conservatives, began a white supremacy campaign. (See “Blood and Ballots: African-Americans’ Battle for the Vote in WNC,” Oct. 6, 2016, Xpress)

In 1900, North Carolina was set to vote on an amendment to its state constitution. Literacy tests were among the additions proposed. Illiterate white men, however, didn’t have to worry. This point was made clear in a Jan. 30, 1900, Q&A in The Asheville Daily Citizen. Titled, “WHITE SUPREMACY MADE PERMANENT,” the piece answered inquiries and concerns surrounding the amendment. Would, for example, uneducated white men have to pass a literacy test in order to cast a ballot?  The paper answered:

“Certainly not. Under it any white man who could vote at any time before 1867, or whose ancestors (that is, his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc.) could vote at any time before 1867, can register — whether he can read and write or not[.]”

The follow-up question asked: “Why this difference between the white man and the negro?” The paper responded:

“Why bless your soul, it is a matter of natural understanding and capacity. The white man has more sense and capacity than the negro, and by nature understands the duties and responsibilities of suffrage and citizenship better than the negro; and the Democratic party holds that the uneducated white man can be trusted to cast a more intelligent vote than even an educated negro.”

The vote for the amendment would not take place until Aug. 2, 1900. In the meantime, a push for its passage took several forms, including the creation of Asheville’s own Young Men’s White Supremacy club. On June 27, 1900, The Asheville Daily Citizen reported on the organization’s inaugural meeting, held the previous night. Among its speakers was a Dr. Paquin. According to the paper:

“Dr. Paquin declared that the amendment ought to be carried in such a way as would convince the people of the north that the question was of supremacy of the white man, and not a partisan one. … He declared that it was ridiculous and absurd to give the negro or any other debased race political equity with the Anglo-Saxon. Dr. Paquin’s speech pleased the club so much that it was resolved to ask him to write out his views for publication.”

On July, 30 1900, three days before the vote, a torchlight procession was held in downtown Asheville. The following day, The Citizen reported on the event: “There were 1200 to 1500 people in the parade and thousands of spectators thronged the sidewalks. … Old men and boys, ladies and children, caught the enthusiasm of the hour and shouted themselves hoarse.”

The article went on to include the “many transparencies [that] were carried in the procession.” According to the paper, some of these signs read:

  • “We are for disfranchising negroes; [Rep. Richmond] Pearson disfranchised white men.”
  • “All coons look alike to us.”
  • “Give white supremacy 1000 in Buncombe.”
  • “White supremacy is life; black supremacy is death.”

On Aug. 2 the state voted on the amendment. The following day, a headline in The Asheville Daily Citizen read, “The Expected Has Happened.” The amendment was ratified. The article declared:

“The constitutional amendment submitted to the people of North Carolina in yesterday’s election made an issue between white men and colored men — between the Anglo-Saxon and all ‘lesser breeds.’ It also presented a political test of the natural law of the survival of the fittest; and the purblind politicans who thought to defeat its ratification not only discredited the traditions of the most masterful race the world has yet seen, but arrayed themselves in opposition to a well-recognized law of all being.

“The amendment has been ratified, and the government of state and county has been committed to the party which stands for white supremacy, by overwhelming majorities; and it is hoped that the lesson of this result will not be lost on those partisans and theorists, here and elsewhere, who have thought it possible for the white men of their country to yield any considerable share in their government to an alien and inferior race. The principles of equality before the law and majority rule are sacred, when properly understood and applied, but they will never in this country be so understood or applied as to put negroes in authority over white men. Every attempt so to apply them has been productive of evil, and only evil, for the negro race, and the only hope of peace and prosperity for that race is in its frank recognition of this truth.”

On Aug. 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. It aimed to overcome legal barriers, such as literacy tests, that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 10, 2020 to accurately reflect the spelling of Dr. Paquin.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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26 thoughts on “Asheville Archives: ‘White supremacy made permanent,’ 1900

  1. Kathy Kyle

    Thank you to Mountain Xpress for running these archives. Thomas Calder thank you for the research and the details. The costumes are gone, but the tactics to disenfranchise minorities remain.

    • Lulz

      LOL how so? Poll taxes? Do tell us how there’s a concerted effort to prevent anyone from voting.

      • Stephen

        Voter ID laws and reducing polling locations and hours (ex. closing polls on Sunday when black churches bus members to vote) are two common tactics. They can pretend it is for other reasons, but behind closed doors they know what effect it is having. Much cleaner than hoods and lynching.

        • Potts

          “Sunday when black churches bus members to vote”… how is Sunday racist? I can only assume you find white oaks racist. Maybe black holes are racist. Brown shirts are racist – perhaps, if you know the Nazi connotation.
          Tuesday… Tuesday isn’t racist… or is it?
          If I want to vote, and I did, I will transport myself in whatever way on whatever day at whatever time to wherever the polling location may be. This, presumably, has nothing to do with my physical presence – but has everything to do with my character. If you think certain people need special accommodation because of their perceived race – YOU are racist… which is revealed by your assertion that: “Black people can’t vote unless they get on the church bus on Sunday, they can’t vote unless they are next door to a polling station”… are you aware of what you are implying? White people can travel a few miles, Black people can’t? White people can vote on Tuesday, Black people can’t? Is this not the basic assertion of racial superiority? Examples to challenge your racist assertions are easy… what is a poverty stricken (WHATEVER RACE…) family with no car at the end of a dead end road at the top of a mountain who otherwise lives self sufficient going to do when its voting time?
          And perhaps… if you feel certain people need special help because of how they look – you can give them a ride on your moral high horse. Of course, how bigoted would it be to pull up to someone and say “hey, you probably need a ride to vote because you can’t transport yourself on anything but a Church bus on Sunday – I know because you are Black – so I’m going to do you a great favor and give you a taste of my special privilege called a “car” (or, hold your hand while we get on the bus… or walk….)”. Its called: the bigotry of low expectations.

          • Phillip Williams

            Bravo, Mate! Excellent response – I am surprised that some of the reg’lars haven’t broke into interpretive dance and commenced to cuttin’ them didoes yet…I figured you had lit a fuse for sure!!

          • Phillip Williams

            Oh – I reckon I missed where Mr. Potts talked all about the voter ID law there….these aging eyes of mine…thanks for setting that straight.

          • Peter Robbins

            Read the Fourth Circuit’s decision, if your peeps can stand the strain. You’ll find the whole gang of voter restrictions done got struck down.

          • Peter Robbins

            In case you haven’t located the decision yet, I’ll make things easy: The Court of Appeals found the state’s reason for curtailing “souls to the polls” Sunday voting was a “smoking gun” of intentional racial discrimination. Bracing stuff from a court required to give legislation a presumption of constitutionality.

          • Potts

            Arbitrarily assigning a set of character expectations based upon physical form… Is called bigotry.
            Perhaps the supreme court thinks poor appalachians that are more pale can organize a bus on Tuesday, yet past a certain pigment the only day available is Sunday… What for those with a nice tan? Obviously (to the white supremo maximo) people “of color” are incapable of getting identification… How dare the legislature seek fraud prevention measures…
            Obviously the setup currently works perfectly… I mean, even dead people can vote! Anyone could vote multiple times, see the cases of this… See the video in cali where someone registers as “marshall mathers” (Eminem)….
            Not to dig through the details of case law, i see clearly the Bigotry of low expectations… Whoever in a robe banging on a desk should see it as well. Otherwise we have a grey murky thing called “politics” masquerading as “justice”.

  2. luther blissett

    “Among its speakers was a Dr. Pacquin.”

    Dr Paul Paquin, who moved to Asheville in 1899, operated the Oakland Heights sanitarium with Samuel Battle in Victoria, where AB Tech is now, and served as secretary of the Asheville Public Health and Resort Association. The Richard Sharp Smith archive includes a 1912 plan for a Biltmore Village cottage for “Mrs. Paul Paquin.”

    There may have been another Dr Paquin in the city at the time, but I doubt it.

    • Phillip Williams – Interesting to note that Dr. Paul Paquin was a Canadian who held degrees in Medicine and Veterinary science, studied in France with Louis Pasteur and was a pioneer in bacteriology….Just goes to show that racism was unfortunately not confined to Southerners – nor to the United States – nor to unlearned Appalachian mountain folks and the “crackers” of the Deep South.

      Biologists, anthropologists, “phrenologists” – the branches of legitimate science of the time and the quacks – all over the world – spent an inordinate amount of time and ink trying to prove that there were scientific reasons that the “lesser” races were lesser. This was preached from many a pulpit as well – one of the few times science and religion made an effort to agree on something and support one another.

  3. Ralph W. Bastedo

    Thank you, Mountain Xpress, for both publishing and then posting this superb essay by Thomas Calder.

  4. Carol Ball

    This is the history of our town. Thank you for writing the article Thomas Calder. I see this as a way to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward. No need to berate each other. Asking for voters to show ID seems like a perfectly reasonable request. Just like you are asked to show ID when you cash a check. I don’t want to discourage people from voting but honestly I don’t understand how making sure that I am who I say I am would discourage me from voting.

    • Phillip Williams

      And – I would honestly ask – insofar as NC is concerned – WHAT voter ID law?? Last election, the BOE folks monitoring it had a conniption if you offered to pull out any kind of ID. Has this changed in the past year back to requiring an ID?? Honestly don’t know as I have been staying in Texas the past several months.

      • Peter Robbins

        I believe they’re talking about the package of voter-suppression laws (which included voter ID) that the North Carolina General Assembly refused to pass a few years back when the Republican majority, having learned from past mistakes, realized that it’s wrong to disenfranchise African Americans with surgical precision.

        Just kidding. The law was struck down by the courts.

        • Phillip Williams

          That is what I thought. I was stationed in NC in 2016 and went to vote in person, and those monitoring the process got in a twist if anyone even went for their billfold – and I lived right beside the Board of Elections in Haywood County for many years and worked for the County, so those folks knew me when I showed up to vote…..I am not a Republican – but I still don’t understand how anyone in the 21st century USA doesn’t have an ID – but then again, I have had to show mine to get into my workplace, log onto my work computer, and even to buy groceries at the commissary for the past many years. And even out in “the world” I can’t buy booze or tobacco, cash a check, board an airplane, go in a dirty bookstore, etc.,etc., etc., without one, so I always wondered why it was a big deal to show it for something as important as voting.

          • Peter Robbins

            The fact remains that some people (particularly the elderly) do show up at the polls without an ID, and if a disproportionate percentage are minorities, then minorities are disadvantaged by a voter ID law. That is a high price to pay, just for openers, to address a voter-impersonation “problem” that no one can show even exists. But the situation in North Carolina was more stark. The evidence showed that the drafters actually intended to produce a racially disparate effect (because they thought it would help Republicans) and they didn’t even try very hard to hide it. That, I think we can all agree, is a really big deal.

            Personally, I would not mind a voter-ID law like the one in Connecticut, where the voter must show a form of ID and, if she can’t, must sign a statement averring under penalty of perjury that she is who she says she is. But my opinion on that score is neither here nor there. The salient question on this thread is whether we have come very far in our unwillingness to tolerate racial discrimination — in voting laws and elsewhere. Recent history is not encouraging. Indeed, as Charlottesville showed, we’re even experiencing a resurgence of certain colorful costumes we thought we’d never see again. And don’t get me started on how our President refers to the Dark Continent.

          • luther blissett

            “I still don’t understand how anyone in the 21st century USA doesn’t have an ID”

            Perhaps Thomas Calder can dig into the archives for material on how the vital records system worked under Jim Crow laws or for white communities in remote mountain areas. Or you could do your own research on how documenting personal identity is a hard problem in America. In many states it’s still legally delegated to counties, and handles inconsistencies and differences in state law badly. Obtaining primary documents isn’t cheap; fixing transcription errors is expensive.

          • Phillip Williams

            Gents – I admit – I have pretty much lived in a bubble since 1982 – my ID card has always been an “accountable item” and I have had it since I was 18 – had NC driver’s license since I was 16. Lose an official ID while you are on active duty – especially if you are overseas – and it is a pretty big deal.

            And I have known many folks of various races and economic statuses – who were born at home, delivered by a midwife or relative, and whose only birth record was an entry in the family Bible – and never had any problems getting them help thru the VA. As you mentioned – it probably varies from county to county and State to State.

            I did not intend to say that the laws were right or that those who opposed them were wrong – just that I didn’t understand the flap over the law, because I personally cannot visualize not having an official ID of some kind on my person at all times.

          • luther blissett

            Some states with voter ID laws have accepted handwritten entries in family bibles as birth records, but it took court cases to do it.

            Having documentary evidence of your identity that could be accepted outside your local community only became a big deal during WW2 (because of security requirements for war jobs) and states only began consolidating county vital records in the 60s. (Before that if a courthouse burnt, the records might burn with it.) The problem with most state voter ID laws is that they blame individuals for gaps or discrepancies in the bureaucratic record; places like the VA have a bit more trust than that.

          • Phillip Williams

            Mr. Blissett – yes, you have a point – a lot of courthouses or records repositories down thru the years burnt, flooded, etc….Even the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis suffered a fire in 1973 in which a large number of pre-1960 Army and Air Force records were partially or completely destroyed. One reason the VA offers some flexibility with regard to military records. We adopted a Russian child in 1998, and had no trouble getting anything she needed as her citizenship was a rubber-stamp – we got her when she was 8 months old. However, when we went to get her NCDMV learners permit we hit a rock wall – they would not accept any of the documents we had – military dependent ID, NC Student ID, NC adoption certificate, Social Security Card, letter from the US Dept of State confirming the code on her passport, etc – we actually had to obtain a US Passport for her before DMV would issue a learners permit to her. I think sometimes the employees who enforce these laws are working off a condensed checklist and uphold the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law.

          • Potts

            The spirit of the law is one person one vote.
            The current system is extremely easy to exploit… In most any other encounter with the government much duress is expected – having id is but a piece of the bueaurocratic puzzle.
            Yet to vote, outright fraud is made easy. You can argue for the oppressed victims… But lets apply this to, say, people who can only get to the dmv on Sunday on their church bus with no id but their name on a bible… Why even take the driving test – the oppressed victims are all illiterate. So, then, everyone can hop right on the road.
            You could argue piloting a vehicle is dangerous- thus licensure is reasonable… But what for piloting the behemoth of government? Dangerous, people voted those jim crow laws into effect…. People have voted their freedoms into the toilet happily flushed by the tyrant… Id is not immunization from corruption – people with id are no different without it, id merely curbs fraud… See: your bank account, realize how much easier fraud would be if the bank didn’t take measures to prevent it (photo id…)…
            Rather than accomodating the lowest common denominator, particularly as you assume they look a certain way, perhaps we can seek methods to uplift those challenged by the ways we may implement to provide a more honest electory process.

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