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Wilmington is a city in and the county seat of New Hanover County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 75,838 at the 2000 Census. A July 1, 2007 United States Census Bureau estimate placed the population at 99,623. Wilmington is the principal city of the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, a metropolitan area that covers New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties in southeastern North Carolina, which had an estimated population of 347,012 as of July 1, 2008. It was named in honor of Spencer Compton, the Earl of Wilmington, who was Prime Minister under George II.
Wilmington was settled on the Cape Fear River and offers its historic downtown with its one mile long Riverwalk as a main tourist attraction. It is minutes away from nearby beaches. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Wilmington, North Carolina one of its 2008 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. City residents have the advantage of living nestled between the river and the ocean with Wrightsville Beach a short 20 minute drive from downtown.
In 2003 the city received, through an act of Congress, the designation of "A Coast Guard City". The city is also home port for the USCGC Diligence, a United States Coast Guard medium endurance cutter.
Wilmington is also known as the childhood home of basketball great Michael Jordan and journalist David Brinkley; famous Wilmington natives include Robert Ruark, Sonny Jurgenson, Charles Kuralt, Charlie Daniels, Roman Gabriel, Meadowlark Lemon, Trot Nixon and Alge Crumpler. It is also home to the World War II Battleship USS North Carolina (BB-55). Now a war memorial, the ship is open to public tours and is on display across from the downtown port area. The town is home to the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Wilmington Hammerheads USL soccer team, the training camp site for the Charlotte Bobcats and the Cape Fear Museum.
The city is home to EUE Screen Gems Studios, the largest TV and movie production facility outside of California. "Dream Stage 10," the facility's newest soundstage is the third largest in the US and houses the largest special effects water tank in North America. Since the studios opening in 1984, Wilmington has become a major center of American film and television production; motion pictures such as A Walk To Remember, Blue Velvet, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Empire Records, Cape Fear, Black Knight, 28 Days, The Crow (death place of Brandon Lee), Nights in Rodanthe and the controversial Dakota Fanning film Hounddog; as well as television shows such as Matlock, Surface, The WB's Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill have been produced there. Hundreds of films, documentaries, and television series have been filmed here.
Although there had been attempts to settle the Cape Fear region in the 1600s, the first permanent English settlers established themselves in the area in the 1720s. The town of Wilmington was incorporated in 1739. A number of the first settlers of the region came from South Carolina and Barbados. Slavery came early to the region as landowners used slave labor to exploit the region's natural resources. The forest provided the region's major industries through the 18th and most of the 19th century: naval stores and lumber fueled the economy both before and after the American Revolution. However, the most significant event in Wilmington's history is the coup d'état and Massacre of 1898.
Main article: Wilmington, North Carolina, in the Civil War
During the Civil War the port was a major base for Confederate blockade runners. It was captured by Union forces only in February 1865, approximately one month after the fall of Fort Fisher had closed the port. Since almost all the action was some distance from the city itself, a number of Antebellum homes and other buildings are still extant.
In November 1898 Wilmington was the scene of a violent attack by a well-organized group of whites who destroyed the printing press of the African American newspaper The Daily Record and set fire to the building in response to an editorial that "insulted white womanhood", which was credited to editor Alex Manly. The mob then went to the north side of town, where an unknown number of African Americans were murdered by lynching and many hundreds more were run out of town. No whites were killed during the incident.
At the same time, the Republican mayor and city council were forced to resign their offices and the leader of the white mob was then installed as mayor, these events precisely fitting the definition of a coup d'état. The events in Wilmington—which was the largest city in the state at the time—helped make North Carolina into a Democratic Party-controlled state. They also helped institute Jim Crow and disenfranchisement which lasted until the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.
In 2006 the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission completed its official report on the event. Consisting of thirteen commissioners appointed by the legislature, the governor, mayor and city council of Wilmington, the commission was assisted by the staff of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. They used the experience of the Rosewood Report (completed 1993), and the Tulsa Report (completed 2001) as a model and set out to provide detailed explanations for the causes and effects of the riots and to propose a series of recommendations to address the wrongs perpetrated by earlier generations. The resolution also apologized to those affected by the riots and their repercussions and renounced these actions.