Wilmington’s Lie ~ by David Zucchino

This book was on sale and I thought I recognized the title as having won the Pulitzer last year (2021 prize for a 2020 book).  For a minute, I thought I was wrong, but yes, it did get the prize, but it was for General Nonfiction,  not History as I’d thought.  (Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain won in the History category. It’s on my Wish List.) 

Wilmington’s Lie:The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy
by David Zucchino

2020 / 562 pages
Read by Victor Bevine 11h 26m
Rating – 9 / US Civil War History

Probably like most readers, I’d never heard of this riot/insurrection by White Supremacists which occurred in 1898 in Wilmington North Carolina.  At first it was reported as a race riot started by Blacks and that’s the lie which was perpetuated. But after a couple decades of digging that idea was changed. The “Fusion” political party which consisted of both Blacks and Whites had won the election and the White Supremacists didn’t like that and deliberately stole the election because they wanted all power back.

But Zucchino starts in the Prologue with the actual riot but in Chapter 1 he goes back to 1865 for the background and how it lead up to the violence.  After the Civil War Wilmington, like many other Southern cities, was in chaos and ruins.  There was filth everywhere and within weeks Blacks were again being hunted as well as for sale.  The Union armies came in and maintained order until the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and even then it didn’t all fall apart for another 20 years of brewing resentments on the part of the Whites.

Bitterness and even hatred was never far beneath the surface in Wilmington and although the Black population was doing relatively well economically, that’s what was resented by the powerful Whites as well as those who competed with Blacks for jobs..

So the ideas behind White Supremacy were only a speech or a newspaper editorial away.  Lo and behold a Black newspaper was purchased by Alex Manley and he figured prominently in the White rage writing editorials and news of interest to the Black community. There were many Black professionals and a growing middle class – no Black owned banks though.  

And still the insurrection/coup went on.  It was a murderous night and the next day it continued.  Thousands of Blacks simply left town – and many didn’t move back. Many Blacks who still had jobs were fired – unless they were necessary for domestic services.

Most people just hushed it all up. Whites took over all power and Blacks either didn’t go back or didn’t talk/write about it. White Supremacists were actually proud of what they’d “accomplished.” And Jim Crow commenced across the South with all their new laws.

More information has become available as Black Studies programs and there have been protests about various statues. The memorial marker in honor of Alex Manley, the editor of the Black newspaper in Wilmington has been necessarily updated with appropriate information.


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2 Responses to Wilmington’s Lie ~ by David Zucchino

  1. Keith says:

    Becky, this was indeed a coup that even newspapers helped instigate. Yet, I did not hear anything about it until the last ten years, just like Tulsa. This is the kind of history that has always been whitewashed and others want to get out a bigger paint brush. Keith


    • I knew about Tulsa from the book Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew quite a long time ago. But Wilmington? Never, ever heard of it until Wilmington’s Lie. I really should have gotten the Kindle edition to go with the Audio because then I would have had access to footnotes and other extra-textual material, It’s a very well researched book.


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