November 10th, 1898 – The Wilmington Insurrection

Today-In-History

November 10th, 1898 witnessed the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, the only instance of an attempted coup d’état in American history.

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The Wilmington coup d’état of 1898, also known as the Wilmington massacre of 1898 or the Wilmington race riot of 1898, began in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 10th, 1898 and continued for several days. It is considered a turning point in post-Reconstruction North Carolina politics. The event is credited as ushering in an era of severe racial segregation and disenfranchisement of African-Americans throughout the Southeastern United States. Laura Edwards wrote in Democracy Betrayed (2000), “What happened in Wilmington became an affirmation of white supremacy not just in that one city, but in the South and in the nation as a whole.”

Originally described by European-Americans as a race riot, the events are now classified as a coup d’etat, as white Democratic Party insurgents overthrew the legitimately elected local government. A mob of nearly 2,000 men attacked the only black newspaper in the state, and persons and property in black neighborhoods, killing an estimated 15 to more than 60 victims.

atlanta-race-riot-600x626_largeTwo days after the election of a Fusionist white mayor and biracial city council, two-thirds of which was white, Democratic Party white supremacists seized power and overturned the elected government. Led by Alfred Waddell, who was defeated in 1878 as the congressional incumbent by Daniel L. Russell (elected governor in 1896), more than 2,000 white men participated in an attack on the black newspaper, Daily Record, burning down the building. They ran officials and community leaders out of the city, and killed many blacks in widespread attacks, especially destroying the Brooklyn neighborhood. They took photographs of each other during the events. The Wilmington Light Infantry (WLI) and federal Naval Reserves, ordered to quell the riot, became involved with the rioters instead, using rapid-fire weapons and killing several black men in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Both black and white residents later appealed for help after the coup to President William McKinley, but his administration did not respond, as Governor Russell had not requested aid. After the riot, more than 2,100 blacks left the city permanently, having to abandon their businesses and properties, turning it from a black-majority to a white-majority city.

In the 1990s, a grassroots movement arose in the city to acknowledge and discuss the events more openly, and try to reconcile the different accounts of what had happened. This was similar to efforts in Florida and Oklahoma to recognize the early 20th-century race riots of Rosewood and Tulsa, respectively, in which white mobs had attacked and killed blacks. The city planned events around the insurrection’s centennial in 1998, and numerous residents took part in related discussions and education events. In 2000 the state legislature authorized a commission to produce a history of the events and to evaluate the economic impact and costs to black residents, with consideration of reparation for descendants of victims. Its report was completed in 2006.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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