Abstract: Anti-Monopolism and the New South: The Southern Railway and the 1898 White Supremacy Campaign
North Carolina’s 1898 White Supremacy Campaign, in which the state Democratic Party orchestrated a virulently racist campaign to seize control of the state government from a coalition of Populists and Republicans, has rightly received much attention from historians as a turning point in southern political history. But these historians often overlook the role of corporate power, specifically the influence of the Southern Railway, a company that benefitted greatly from the results of this election.
Specifically, the election spelled the end of a political attack on the Southern’s 99-Year lease of the state-owned North Carolina Railroad in 1895. The 1897 legislative session in particular witnessed a concentrated assault on the lease and foes of the Southern hoped that the 1898 campaign would elect an “anti-monopoly” legislature that would decisively end the lease. So the victory of the Democrats in the 1898 election did more than just end black voting and defeat the Populists, it also marked the end of the most serious attack on the Southern Railway’s near-monopoly status in the state. This paper discusses the history of the 99-year lease issue and it argues that the Southern was far from a passive observer in this infamous campaign. In the end, this episode helps us reconsider the culpability of northern capital in the establishment of white supremacy in the South.