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Wilmington's Lie (WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE): The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

Wilmington's Lie (WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE): The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

by David Zucchino


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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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802128386
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 54,507
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

DAVID ZUCCHINO is a contributing writer for The New York Times. He has covered wars and civil conflicts in more than three dozen countries. Zucchino was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his dispatches from apartheid South Africa and is a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for his reporting from Iraq, Lebanon, Africa and inner-city Philadelphia. He is the author of Thunder Run and Myth of the Welfare Queen.

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personae ix

Prologue xiii

Book 1 Days of Hope

1 Cake and Wine 3

2 Good Will of the White People 11

3 Lying Out 17

4 Marching to the Happy Land 22

5 Ye Men of Unmixed Blood 31

6 The Avenger Cometh 41

7 Destiny of the Negro 45

8 A Yaller Dog 52

Book 2 Reckoning

9 The Negro Problem 65

10 The Incubus 77

11 I Say Lynch 83

12 A Vile Slander 90

13 An Excellent Race 96

14 A Dark Scheme 102

15 The Nation's Mission 107

16 Degenerate Sons of the White Race 114

17 The Great White Man's Rally and Basket Picnic 121

18 White-Capping 127

19 Buckshot at Close Range 132

20 A Drunkard and a Gambler 139

21 Choke the Cape Fear with Carcasses 144

22 The Shepherds Will Have Nowhere to Flee 152

23 A Pitiful Condition 162

24 Retribution in History 167

25 The Forbearance of All White Men 174

Book 3 Line of Fire

26 What Have We Done? 189

27 Situation Serious 200

28 Strictly According to Law 220

29 Marching from Death 228

30 Not the Sort of Man We Want Here 235

31 Justice Is Satisfied, vengeance Is Cruel 246

32 Persons Unknown 257

33 Better Get a Gun 265

34 The Meanest Animals 273

35 Old Scores 285

36 The Grandfather Clause 301

37 Leave It to the Whites 309

38 I Cannot Live in North Carolina and Be Treated Like a Man 318

Epilogue 329

Acknowledgments 353

Notes 357

Bibliography 399

Index 409

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