Turn-of-the-century America was very different from the present, to say the least. New factories, foundries and ships belched steam and smoke in and around America’s bustling ports, with elites and the growing middle class reaping the rewards of the nation’s rapid industrialization.
The port city of Wilmington, N.C. was no different; new shopfronts popped up on Market and Front Streets, and extravagant Victorian mansions were built on the surrounding roadways. Amid all of this prosperity, unfortunately, lurked a dark undercurrent of the fledgling institutions of the Jim Crow South as well as tensions between whites and their new freedman neighbors.
This tension and animosity exploded on Nov. 10, 1898. On that day, a mob of white supremacists overthrew the democratically elected government of Wilmington and replaced it with a junta. A local Black-owned newspaper was burned to the ground, and as many as 60 local African Americans were killed during the attack. The insurrection that occurred remains the only coup d’etat to occur on American soil.
The United States has a poor reputation for sweeping racially inspired violence under the rug. While things have certainly gotten better recently, coverage of such events used to be dismal at best. The 1921 Tulsa massacre, during which as many as 300 African Americans were killed and more than 35 city blocks were razed, was all but covered up by the white community there.
An 1873 riot in Colfax, La. culminated in the execution of likely more than 100 African Americans in that community. And yet, a monument still stands commemorating the event as the “end of carpetbagging misrule” in the town.