White Riots Past and Present

White Riots Past and Present

January 8th, 2021

It turns out this week's "unprecedented" attempt to overturn a US election has a precedent in our own backyard!

In 1898, a couple thousand white supremacists successfully overturned an election in North Carolina, destroying a powerful, anti-capitalist coalition of poor white and recently emancipated Black farmers (the Fusionists). The Wilmington Insurrection began with members of the paramilitary Red Shirts blocking roads to the polls and attacking suspected leftist and Black voters. Nevertheless multiracial Fusionist candidates prevailed. In retaliation, white business leaders demanded the overturn of the results, and two days after the election, 500 white business owners and veterans armed with rifles and a Gatling gun(!) set fire to a prominent Black-owned newspaper, attacking Black people throughout the city. The mayor, aldermen, and police chief resigned at gun point and were replaced by members of the mob.

In the aftermath, national media blamed Black people for instigating the massacre and praised the white usurpers. The federal government looked the other way and liberal politicians capitulated to the insurgents. Coup leaders were never held to account and enjoyed re-election as a result of the total disenfranchisement of Black voters. This threat of bloody insurrection became the promise that underwrote decades of Jim Crow in the South. In Wilmington, the coup drove thousands of Black people from their homes and broke the multiracial coalition that challenged elites.

To learn more about this coup that successfully reshaped American politics, reverberating in this week's events, check out David Zucchino's Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, out in paperback 1/19.