Wilmington’s Lie

New York Herald headline

Before the Tulsa, OK massacre of 1921 and the Rosewood, FL massacre of 1923 there was Wilmington, NC.

Unlike other racially motivated attacks on Black Americans in our nation’s history, the 1898 attack on the Black community in Wilmington, NC was a carefully plotted political coup designed to regain power and put a thriving Black community in its “proper” place.

1890’s Wilmington was a shinning example of Reconstruction where a mixed-race community shared wealth and power. Successful Black-owned businesses thrived and Black North Carolinians held important elected and professional positions like alderman, police officers, magistrates, bankers, newspaper publishers, and more. It was a thriving Black middle class that threatened the way of life and power structure of white supremacists Democrats. So, in 1898, they plotted to take back the state legislature “by the ballot or bullet or both”. More than 2,000 heavily armed white men swarmed the streets of Wilmington intent on torching, terrorizing, and murdering Wilmington’s Black community. At least 60 Black men were shot down in the streets and businesses burned while survivors fled for their lives.

In this episode of Life in HD, I speak with Pulitzer Prize winning author, David Zucchino, about his book Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy. He describes a thriving Black middle class in Wilmington, the coordinated plot by white supremacists Democrats to seize power, and contemporary Wilmington’s inability to heal and reconcile this horrific period in the city’s history.