Reviews for Wilmingtons Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

by David Zucchino

Library Journal
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Zucchino (Thunder Run) explains a tragic story of denied civil rights. Just two years after the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), in which African Americans were considered to be separate but equal, emboldened white supremacists staged a governmental coup in Wilmington, NC in 1898, setting back civil rights for decades to come. Tactics included ballot stuffing and media manipulation. Zucchino uses personal diaries and testimonies from those present to engage readers. He also aims to illustrate the context of the coup and its repercussions on the following century of disenfranchisement; his account is extremely compelling and convincing. VERDICT Even astute readers of history and civil rights will be alarmed by this story, which is why it should be read. For fans of American history, politics, and civil rights. [See Prepub Alert, 8/5/19.]—Keith Klang, Port Washington P.L., NY

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In the late 1890s, Wilmington, NC, was a successful mixed-race community with a strong African American middle class that actively participated in a government comprising Republicans and Populists. Then white supremacist Democrats used a black newspaper editorial to foment unrest aimed at overthrowing Wilmington's elected officials, eventually dispatching 2,000 armed night riders to terrorize the populace. At least 60 black men were killed and their families driven into the swamps in the infamous Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. Pulitzer Prize winner Zucchino resurrects a little-known incident wrongly called a race riot; it was in fact the violent subversion of government.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A searing and still-relevant tale of racial injustice at the turn of the 20th century.In 1898, the city of Wilmington, North Carolina, was unusual in the South for having a government that included African Americans. Many moving parts went into that development, including the short-term disenfranchisement of Confederates during Reconstruction, the ratification of the 15th Amendment, and the rise of a prosperous black middle class in the port city. As Pulitzer Prize winner Zucchino (Thunder Run: The Armored Strike To Capture Baghdad, 2004, etc.) shows, it was met by an organization that "acquired a formal name proudly embraced by Democrats: the White Supremacy Campaign," the goal of which "was to evict blacks from office and intimidate black voters from going to the polls." The product of a politician and a newspaper editor, the movement took a paramilitary turn when thousands of "Red Shirts" turned up to besiege Wilmington in what amounted to a coup d'tat, the only violent change of government in the history of the nation, though certainly not the only instance of racial violence. The author writes, meaningfully, "for whites in Wilmington, blacks had ceased to be slaves, but they had not ceased to be black." The coup, in which at least 60 blacks died, was successful. It replaced the city's government with an all-white one, and it led to widespread disenfranchisement throughout the South. The newspaper editor, Josephus Daniels, moved on to Louisiana and campaigned for white supremacy there, promulgating a voter-suppression law that, in New Orleans, "helped reduce the number of black voters from 14,117 to 1,493." Efforts by the biracial Republican Party in North Carolina to undo the wrong were met with indifference even by Republican President William McKinley. The complexities of racial division and party politics in a time before the Republicans and Democrats effectively switched sides are sometimes challenging to follow, but Zucchino's narrative is clear and appropriately outraged without being strident.A book that does history a service by uncovering a shameful episode, one that resonates strongly today. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
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Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Zucchino (Thunder Run) delivers a searing chronicle of the November 1898 white supremacist uprising in Wilmington, N.C., that overthrew the municipal government. At the time, Zucchino notes, Wilmington’s “thriving population of black professionals” made it, according to one contemporary source, “the freest town for a negro in the country.” Determined to end “Negro rule,” a cabal of white politicians and newspapermen launched a statewide campaign of voter suppression, intimidation, and ballot stuffing that flipped control of North Carolina’s state legislature from a Republican-Populist alliance to Democrats in the 1898 elections. The next day, the white supremacist leader Col. Alfred Waddell read a “White Declaration of Independence” in the Wilmington courthouse; among its seven resolutions was a demand for black newspaper owner Alexander Manly to be banished from the city for publishing an editorial that, Zucchino writes, “upended the core white conviction that any sex act between a black man and a white woman could only be rape.” When Waddell falsely claimed that Wilmington’s black leaders didn’t deliver their written response to the demands by 7:30 the next morning, as was required, nearly 2,000 armed white men burned down Manly’s newspaper offices, killed an estimated 60 African-Americans, and installed Waddell as mayor. Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, Zucchino paints a disturbing portrait of the massacre and how it was covered up by being described as a “race riot” sparked by African-Americans. This masterful account reveals a shameful chapter in American history. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)