July 26, 2022
Wilmington, North Carolina, was the setting and the date was November 10, 1898. Wilmington was the state’s largest city and a positive example of a successful mixed-race community. Successful Black-owned businesses included The Record—an African American newspaper.
As in other southern states, white supremacists were easily aroused by false news stories, rallies, and race-baiting editorials. A campaign to take control of the state legislature “by ballot or bullet or both” was led by a collection of white supremacy gangs identified as the “Red Shirts.” These paramilitary group were active throughout the South from 1875-1990. White supremacists successfully gained control of the state legislature in the November 8, 1898, election.
Two days later, more than 2,000 heavily armed Red Shirts killed at least 60 Black men in the street, burned down the Black newspaper, terrorized women and children. City officials were forced to resign. Prominent and sympathetic whites were banished. The brutal insurrection is a rare instance of a violent overthrow of an elected government in the U.S.
The featured video clip this week is the trailer for "Wilmington on Fire"—a feature-length documentary that includes rare photographs, original research, and testimonies that uncover a shocking event that marked a turning point in the politics of the post-Reconstruction South. The book “Wilmington’s Lie” by David Zucchino was the winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.