Nov 10, 1898: An American Coup D’état and the Rise of Jim Crow

Nov 10, 1898: The Wilmington Coup D’état and Jim Crow

The Only American Coup D’état “Cemented” Segregation in the South

AT THE CLOSE OF THE 19TH CENTURY, Wilmington, North Carolina, as the Raleigh News & Observer explains, “was a symbol of black hope in post-Civil War America. The largest and most important city in North Carolina, it had a black-majority population — 11,324 AfricanAmericans and 8,731 whites.”  The city had a thriving black business community, the only black-owned daily newspaper in the country and a black male literacy rate that was higher than that of whites.

The 1898 North Carolina election pitted a coalition of Progressives and Republicans (known as the Fusionist) against the white supremacist Democrats who sought the “redemption” of North Carolina from “Negro domination”.  While Democrats regained control at the state level, in Wilmington the Fusionist won and elected a bi-racial city council that was still two-thirds white and a white mayor.

After the election, an armed group of 1,000-1,500 men descended on the Wilmington Daily Record, the state’s only black newspaper, burned it down (see photo below).  As reported by the Wilmington Race Riot Commission:

Before the day ended, a mob of up to 2,000 whites roamed the streets, armed with rifles and fueled by weeks of propaganda in newspapers and rhetoric-filled meetings. Rifles and rapid fire machine guns were fired, and black men were killed or wounded throughout the day. Estimates of deaths range from six to 100, but records from the coroner’s office, hospitals or churches are incomplete, so the total remains unknown. There were no white fatalities. By 4 p.m., the Republican mayor, board of aldermen, and chief of police were forced to resign and were replaced by men selected by the [white supremacist] Committee of Twenty-Five. All black municipal employees subsequently were fired.


City resident’s pleas for help from the Governor and President McKinley were ignored.  A democratically elected government was overthrown by coup d’état for the first and only time in American history.

The Raleigh News and Observer (which actually fanned the flames at the time), recently observed that:

the Wilmington race riot of 1898 stands as one of the most important chapters in North Carolina’s history. It is also an event of national historical significance. Occurring only two years after the Supreme Court had sanctioned “separate but equal” segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, the riot marked the embrace of virulent Jim Crow racism, not merely in Wilmington, but across the United States .

. . . The Wilmington race riot did not invent segregation in the South but instead cemented it.

(Emphasis added)


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