The Wilmington Massacre has been linked to Kenan Stadium, with reports of dozens of fatalities.

The Wilmington Massacre has been linked to Kenan Stadium, with reports of dozens of fatalities.

Have you ever pondered what lies beneath your most beloved football field?

Countless enthusiastic supporters have expressed their excitement in arenas such as Carter-Finley at North Carolina State, Memorial Stadium at Clemson, Bank of America in Charlotte, and Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill – all without knowledge of the intricate past shrouded by these locations. Many stadiums are built over entire burial grounds that have gone unnoticed by the masses. In another instance, a stadium now occupies the site where a horrific lynching took place.

The Wilmington Massacre was a hidden part of history for many years, but it is now connected to Kenan Memorial Stadium at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Wilmington Massacre connection with Kenan Stadium at UNC.

The Wilmington Massacre is linked to Kenan Stadium at the University of North Carolina.

The connection between the Wilmington Massacre and Kenan Stadium.

Not long ago, the majority of individuals were unfamiliar with the event where a gathering of Caucasian males invaded Wilmington, massacring African American men, destroying Black-owned establishments and, a unique incident in US history, toppling a real city administration.

This event occurred in North Carolina. The media reported on African American families seeking refuge in the forest to protect themselves.

Wilmington Massacre of 1898 history.

The historical event known as the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.

David Zucchino, author of “Wilmington’s Lie” which details the events of the 1898 coup, described it as a violent attack on Black individuals by heavily armed white supremacists.

William Rand Kenan, Sr., after whom UNC’s Kenan Stadium is named, was a key figure in the massacre.

Kenan led the charge as a ‘gun wagon’ rapidly fired upon and killed Black men.

The white traders had acquired a quick-firing firearm, a primitive model of a automatic weapon capable of firing 420 rounds per minute. They placed it on a carriage pulled by a horse, resulting in a terrifying instrument used to murder and frighten Black men.

According to Zucchino, Kenan personally led a gun wagon and they would move it through the streets during daytime.

William Rand Kenan played a major role in the Wilmington Massacre.

William Rand Kenan was a significant figure in the events of the Wilmington Massacre.

Zucchino uncovered evidence indicating that the gun crew fired upon a group of African American men, resulting in the deaths of approximately 25 individuals. It is believed by historians that at least 60 Black men lost their lives, and it is even possible that over 100 perished. Some individuals attempted to seek shelter by crawling under houses after being shot, but unfortunately succumbed to their injuries there.

Zucchino stated that not all of the bodies had been retrieved.

The city of Wilmington was chosen for a takeover because it had successfully integrated after the Civil War and had a thriving middle class of Black citizens.

Zucchino stated that the coup was publicly celebrated, with gatherings taking place in Raleigh after. It was viewed as a significant occurrence that restored white men to positions of authority and completely removed Black men from voting and political involvement.

The stadium where Black students play football is named after Kenan.

Currently, the stadium bears Kenan’s name and serves as a hub for Black students to partake in football and lay the groundwork for prosperous athletic careers.

Per William Sturkey, a previous assistant professor of history at UNC, Kenan was long regarded as a representation of a brave soldier and a hero.

Kenan Stadium linked with lost history of the Wilmington Massacre

The Wilmington Massacre’s forgotten past is tied to Kenan Stadium.

Sturkey stated that a major issue with William Kenan’s recollection is that the most significant action he took has been omitted.

According to him, the following generation downplayed the severity of the Wilmington Massacre by justifying it as a necessary act and claiming that issues within the Black community needed to be addressed.

Sturkey mentioned that the son questioned if his father was present, but there is evidence in the form of a photo of him sitting on a wagon with a gun.

After Kenan’s son, William Rand Kenan Jr., made a donation towards the stadium and requested for it to be named after his father, the university accepted the proposal.

Sturkey expressed the idea that the stadium being named after his father was never intended for Black people to play there, which was inconceivable to him.

However, in a single generation, the university became integrated and an increasing number of African American students joined the football team at UNC – playing in the shadow of a man who had publicly killed black men in Wilmington.

Sturkey stated that the issue was ignored for a significant period of time.

However, the complete record was stored in the school’s records, just a short distance from the stadium, ready to be uncovered.

Kenan’s past is revealed.

The connection between Kenan Stadium’s namesake and the Wilmington Massacre was uncovered by Craig Calcaterra, a sports writer for NBC, in 2018. The history of the massacre had been largely unknown for many years prior.

The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s newspaper, also aided in informing students about the matter.

The renaming of the stadium by the university was not possible because of a moratorium on renaming buildings.

Sturkey expressed that while young Black men are crucial to the football team, they may not feel comfortable playing in a stadium named after a person who was responsible for the deaths of young Black men in the past.

As a reaction, the university decided to retain the name of Kenan Stadium, but rededicate it from the father to the son.

Zucchino expresses interest in a plaque marker that provides a complete background narrative.

Otherwise, passersby will simply see Keenan Stadium and have no knowledge of its significance.

Sturkey acknowledges that, rather than simply changing a name or rededicating, the true history should be integrated into everyday conversation. It should be widely understood.

According to Sturkey, maintaining a name and educating about its true history is more challenging than simply changing the name and removing plaques.

Can this painful past cause division among the people of North Carolina?

“I decline,” stated Chris Lea, WRAL Sports Anchor, whose inquisitiveness prompted the WRAL Documentary team to create the documentary ‘Ghosts in the Stadium’. Lea has personal connections to North Carolina, as his predecessors were once enslaved in this state.

Understanding the true, localized history of America that has influenced our communities can foster mutual understanding and empathy, and initiate a healing journey for all to progress together.

WRAL’s latest film, Ghosts in the Stadium, delves into the past hidden within four renowned football arenas. This includes a thorough examination of Kenan’s involvement in the Wilmington Massacre.

How to watch Ghosts in the Stadium

View the beginning of this article.

The complete ‘Ghosts in the Stadium’ film is included in this article. It features the tales of burial grounds beneath Carter-Finley at North Carolina State University and Memorial Stadium at Clemson, as well as a lynching site beneath Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Check back every weekend in November for detailed accounts on the background of these places.

Watch on streaming

The documentary “Ghosts in the Stadium” can be viewed on-demand at, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Samsung Smart TV.

Watch on YouTube

The film can be found on the WRAL Doc YouTube channel.

The podcast features Chris Lea’s personal reflections on Specters at the Arena.

Listen to Chris Lea explain how he became fascinated with the history hidden by football stadiums across NC and SC.