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Charlotte Talks: 'Wilmington's Lie' Reveals 1898 'Race Riot' Was White Supremacist Coup

New Hanover County Public Library

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Wilmington massacre of 1898 was long labeled a race riot, but it was actually a bloody coup orchestrated by white supremacists. Journalist David Zucchino shares the story.

This show originally aired Feb. 20, 2020. 

Social unrest across the country has sent many of us to history books looking for a better understanding of our history with racism. Some of us missed the significance of Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery. And the schoolbooks omitted the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, race massacre, during which a white mob destroyed a thriving Black community.

North Carolina has its own history of racial violence, including the Wilmington massacre of 1898.  

Thirty years after the Civil War, African-Americans were making headway in Wilmington. By 1898, many participated in a multi-racial government.

But this angered a group of white supremacists. It led to a riot and to the violent overthrow of elected officials forced to resign at gunpoint. For years, this was depicted as a race riot in which 60 Black men died. The ugly truth is that it was a bloody coup.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Zucchino lays it out in his book "Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy." He shares how that story reverberates today.

Credit Becca Fox
David Zucchino is the author of "Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy."


David Zucchino, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, contributing writer for The New York Times, and Author of "Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy"

Further reading: In 2006, The News & Observer published a special section detailing what happened and the legacy of the massacre. Read it here (PDF).

Erin Keever is Senior Producer of WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. She has been with the show since joining the station in 2006. She's a native Charlottean.