Several Salisbury residents recently attended the 125th anniversary of the Wilmington coup d’etat carried out by white supremacists that occurred on November 10, 1898. Elizabeth Cook gives an inside look at the history of this massacre.


In 2020, David Zucchino’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Wilmington’s Lie,” brought the national spotlight on the travesty as he shared research local and state historians had been piecing together for decades. 

A report commissioned by the N.C. General Assembly in 2000 laid bare the facts: “The riot was not an isolated, spontaneous incident but was the result of a series of events that were directed and planned by upper-class white businessmen in order to regain control of government.”  After reading and discussing Zucchino’s book with friends, a few of us traveled to Wilmington recently to take in events planned for the anniversary. The book made for painful reading — the kind of material that you have to put down for a while before continuing. But it also left us wanting to know more. 

…Historians believe 40 to 60 Black men were shot dead or beaten to death. Some say the total was in the hundreds. The most prosperous Black leaders were banished, along with the ousted government officials.  Supremacists ennobled the slaughter with the lie that they had to contain a violent Black mob. Those who knew better were frightened into silence. 

The lack of intervention by federal authorities and the complicity of state officials sent a clear signal. White efforts to intimidate, disenfranchise and even kill Black citizens could go unpunished. Washington was more concerned about bringing North and South together than in protecting the rights of the formerly enslaved. 

That gave White supremacists a green light across the South.”

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