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CoastLine: David Zucchino, Author of Wilmington's Lie

1898 Monument and Memorial Park

One of Wilmington’s major arteries, Market Street, is named for an antebellum slave market.  Bedford Forest Drive in Wilmington honors Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  That street is intersected by Robert E. Lee  Drive.  

There are more than a dozen street names in the City that honor Confederate leaders. 

Wilmington authorities removed the downtown statue of George Davis, Attorney General of the Confederacy, earlier this year after they determined it was a public safety hazard amid Black Lives Matter Protests.  Another nearby statue honoring the soldiers of the Confederacy, also erected during the Jim Crow era, came down in the predawn hours that same day, for the same reason. 

The population of Wilmington, North Carolina, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, is about 76% white and slightly less than 19% Black.  One-hundred and twenty-two years ago, the Black population in Wilmington, then the largest city in North Carolina, outnumbered whites at 56%. 

People who have lived in the Wilmington area for any period of time have likely heard about – perhaps even read about -- the bloody coup d’etat on November 10, 1898 that killed Black citizens, drove Black elected officials out of office at gunpoint, and eradicated what had been a thriving Black professional class. 

Today, on Eastwood Road near Market Street, a billboard reads, "1898. 2020.  Vote."  One of the activists responsible for the billboard, Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania and raised in Wilmington, writes, “The parallels between Black voter suppression then and now are undeniable, and the efforts have never stopped. They have never wanted you to vote, still don’t, and think many of you won’t. Prove ‘em wrong.” 

How does this bloody coup, which took place more than a century ago, impact Wilmington, the Cape Fear region, North Carolina – and even other parts of the American South today?  Is white supremacy still alive and well in the Port City?

David Zucchino is a contributing writer for The New York Times.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on apartheid in South Africa, and he’s written three books:  Thunder Run, The Myth of the Welfare Queen – and most recently, Wilmington’s Lie,The Murderous Coup of 1898 and The Rise Of White Supremacy

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.