The Apostrophe Blog
Scene on Radio just concluded their latest and, once again, excellent sixth podcast series entitled Echoes of a Coup. I just finished listening to it today. In five outstanding, riveting, at times shocking and heartbreaking episodes, we as listeners learn of yet another pivotal historical event that has been consciously and deliberately erased—whitewashed is perhaps the better term—from the annals of American history. Truly this remains a feature not a bug.
As summarized on the Scene on Radio website, Echoes of a Coup “tells the story of the only successful coup d’etat in U.S. history, in Wilmington North Carolina, November 10th, 1898—what happened, how it happened, and what was lost as a result. In November 1898, an armed White supremacist mob—supported by most White elites in North Carolina—murdered untold Black Wilmington residents and drove the city’s elected Fusionist government from power, installing Democrats in their place. Fusionists were a biracial coalition of mostly-Black Republicans and mostly-White members of the Populist Party. The coup in North Carolina’s then-largest city violently snuffed out some of the last flickers of multiracial democracy in post-Civil War America.”
In 2009, LaRae Sikes Umfleet published the first comprehensive history of this travesty in her book, A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot. Her book was based on extensive research conducted by North Carolina’s Wilmington Race Riot Commission which she led as principal researcher. Her voice is an important one in several episodes of the podcast. In 2021, David Zucchino built upon the work of Umfleet and the commission in his volume, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, which was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.
Perhaps this tragic event is finally coming to the light and under scrutiny because the United States experienced another attempt at a coup on January 6, 2021. And surely some of this attention is also due to the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests that began after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. But with scrutiny, as we have now also seen, there is the ever predictable backlash from the folks who can’t seem to handle the truth, time and time again. There is (unfortunately) a very long list of these unforgivable crimes that have occurred for hundreds of years in this country (mostly) against Black and Indigenous people. Far too many and too often, these incidents have been deliberately erased from our collective memory conveniently allowing (frankly) white people to act innocent, blameless, and free of any guilt and shame. All I know is that, as the hosts of Echoes of a Coup conclude in their final episode, we all need to be reading more widely and deeply in the truer history of this country and its pandering to the violence of white supremacy. A few years ago, it took an HBO series, Watchmen, to make folks aware of the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre
All of these stories are shocking and sometimes even unbelievable. They are dispiriting and disturbing. They are cruel and ugly. And yes, they mostly do not paint white folks who believed they had a right to terrorize, maim, destroy, and murder beings and their communities—and generally without any significant consequences as well—in any kind of good light. White supremacy ruled with a terrorist hand, and accountability for actions taken in its name rarely occurred.
All I know is that, as the hosts of Echoes of a Coup conclude in their final episode, we all need to be studying more widely and deeply in the truer history of this country and its pandering to the violence of white supremacy wherever we can find those tales. For the Wilmington race riot/coup, Wikipedia might be a good place to start. Because, as is obvious to anyone whose eyes are open wide, this curse is still upon this country today. And how can we ever move forward, effect any positive reckoning and change, if we don’t finally, after far too long, begin to take stock, to take a look.
The public domain image above is of a Red Shirt rally in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 1, 1898. Red Shirts were white supremacist terrorist groups active during and after Reconstruction in the Southern United States.