WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — November 10, 1898 is a dark day in Wilmington’s history. That’s when white supremacists burned down an African American run newspaper, fired into homes and places of worship attended by black people, and murdered at least 22 people, although the exact number of those killed is unknown. Many of the bodies were thrown into the Cape Fear River, while hundreds of African Americans fled to the swamps for safety.
White militiamen and rough riders used this skirmish to take over local government, force out African Americans who held office, and take away their right to vote.
Unfortunately, this story isn’t told very often. Maybe it’s too painful to recount. But according to Dr. Jan Davidson with the Cape Fear Museum, “In this case, the winners really did control the history.”
The new white supremacist controlled local government covered their tracks. They printed in local newspapers that instead of a coup, a riot started by African Americans took place.
It was the only successful government overthrow in the United States, and many are fighting to tell its story.
The Cape Fear Museum of History is making that story more accessible with an online timeline documenting every event that took place during and leading up to the clash and a map of where they occurred.
When asked why its important to understand the Wilmington coup, Davidson, one of the project’s creators, said, “If we don’t understand the past, then we can’t move forward together.”
She said the resource was a joint effort between the Cape Fear Museum, Public Library, and New Hanover County IT Department.
They hope that by telling what really happened that day in 1898, we can learn from others’ mistakes and become a better Wilmington.
To check out that online resource, follow this link.