(as of Jan 21,2020 20:58:28 UTC – Details)
From Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino comes a searing account of the Wilmington riot and coup of 1898, an extraordinary event unknown to most Americans
By the 1890s, Wilmington was North Carolina’s largest city and a shining example of a mixed-race community. It was a bustling port city with a burgeoning African American middle class and a Fusionist government of Republicans and Populists that included black aldermen, police officers and magistrates. There were successful black-owned businesses and an African American newspaper, The Record. But across the state―and the South―white supremacist Democrats were working to reverse the advances made by former slaves and their progeny.
In 1898, in response to a speech calling for white men to rise to the defense of Southern womanhood against the supposed threat of black predators, Alexander Manly, the outspoken young Record editor, wrote that some relationships between black men and white women were consensual. His editorial ignited outrage across the South, with calls to lynch Manly.
But North Carolina’s white supremacist Democrats had a different strategy. They were plotting to take back the state legislature in November “by the ballot or bullet or both,” and then use the Manly editorial to trigger a “race riot” to overthrow Wilmington’s multi-racial government. Led by prominent citizens including Josephus Daniels, publisher of the state’s largest newspaper, and former Confederate Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, white supremacists rolled out a carefully orchestrated campaign that included raucous rallies, race-baiting editorials and newspaper cartoons, and sensational, fabricated news stories.
With intimidation and violence, the Democrats suppressed the black vote and stuffed ballot boxes (or threw them out), to win control of the state legislature on November eighth. Two days later, more than 2,000 heavily armed Red Shirts swarmed through Wilmington, torching the Record office, terrorizing women and children, and shooting at least sixty black men dead in the streets. The rioters forced city officials to resign at gunpoint and replaced them with mob leaders. Prominent blacks―and sympathetic whites―were banished. Hundreds of terrified black families took refuge in surrounding swamps and forests.
This brutal insurrection is a rare instance of a violent overthrow of an elected government in the U.S. It halted gains made by blacks and restored racism as official government policy, cementing white rule for another half century. It was not a “race riot,” as the events of November 1898 came to be known, but rather a racially motivated rebellion launched by white supremacists.
In Wilmington’s Lie, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Zucchino uses contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, letters and official communications to create a gripping and compelling narrative that weaves together individual stories of hate and fear and brutality. This is a dramatic and definitive account of a remarkable but forgotten chapter of American history.
An Amazon Best Book of January 2020: Usually, when we read history, we at least have a cursory knowledge of the subject at hand. Sometimes, however, a book comes along that just surprises. How did we not know about this before? we ask ourselves. Wilmington’s Lie is such a book. After the Civil War, Wilmington, North Carolina prospered. It was the state’s largest city, with a busy port and a mixed race community that featured a burgeoning black middle class. But in 1898, a group of white supremacists decided to do something to turn back the page. David Zucchino’s well-researched book delivers an account of one of the few times a group of people has violently overthrown the government in this country. Although the violence that swept over Wilmington’s black community was later covered up as “a race riot,” this was a blatant act of racism, a brutal stab for power. We did not have to wait long for the first great history book of the new decade. —Chris Schluep