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By 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina, was a shining example of a mixed-race community—a bustling port city with a thriving African American middle class and a government made up of Republicans and Populists, including black alderman, police officers, and magistrates. But across the state—and the South—white supremacist Democrats were working to reverse the advances made by former slaves and their progeny. They were plotting to take back the state legislature in the November 8th elections and then use a controversial editorial published by black newspaper editor Alexander Manly to trigger a rebellion or “race riot” to overthrow the elected government in Wilmington. With a coordinated campaign of intimidation and violence, the Democrats sharply curtailed the black vote and stuffed ballot boxes to steal the 1898 mid-term election. Two days later, more than 2,000 heavily armed white nightriders known as Red Shirts swarmed through Wilmington, terrorizing women and childrenand shooting at least 60 black men dead in the streets. The rebels forced city officials and leading black citizens to flee at gun point while hundreds of local African Americans took refuge in nearby swamps and forests.
This brutal insurrection is the only violent overthrow of an elected government in American history. It halted gains made by blacks and restored racism as official government policy, cementing white rule for another 70 years. 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.
InWilmington's Lie, David Zucchino uses contemporary newspaper reports, diaries, letters and official communications to create a gripping narrative that weaves together individual stories of hate, fear, and brutality. This is a dramatic and definitive account of a remarkable but forgotten chapter of American history.