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When White Supremacists Overthrew an Elected Government: David Zucchino's Wilmington's Lie Reviewed

Historians in the News
tags: books, book reviews, White Supremacy



Today we Americans find ourselves struggling with the ghosts of our past. Some among us reach for histories that affirm the established view of who we are as a nation. Many believe the United States is, and must always be, a white nation. But moments of storm and stress also occasion the telling of different stories. We have seen this with The New York Times’s 1619 Project. Now we have David Zucchino’s brilliant new book.

“Wilmington’s Lie” is a tragic story about the brutal overthrow of the multiracial government of Wilmington, N.C., in 1898. The book is divided into three parts. The first details how white supremacists rejected the goals of Reconstruction and chafed under what they called “Negro domination.” We are introduced to characters like “Colonel” Alfred Moore Waddell, who would play a central role in the coup, and to the overall sense of moral panic that engulfed the white community as it confronted black self-assertion — like that of Abraham Galloway, the first black man in North Carolina to campaign in a statewide race — in the aftermath of the Confederacy’s defeat.

The second section charts the campaign to reassert white rule in Wilmington. Zucchino shows how Josephus Daniels, the editor and publisher of The News and Observer, the state’s most important daily, and Furnifold Simmons, the state chairman of the Democratic Party, exploited the prejudices and fears of white North Carolinians. As Zucchino writes, “More than a century before sophisticated fake news attacks targeted social media websites, Daniels’s manipulation of white readers through phony or misleading newspaper stories was perhaps the most daring and effective disinformation campaign of the era.” This was most clearly seen in the exploitation of a column about race, sex and lynching in the black newspaper The Daily Record to justify the coup. The article, written by one of the paper’s publishers, Alexander Manly, became Exhibit A in the case that black men had forgotten their place and represented a clear and present danger to the sanctity of white womanhood.

Read entire article at New York Times

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