CoastLine: Elaine Brown on her ancestors, victims of Wilmington's 1898 coup d'état, and reclaiming her power through poetry
Joshua Halsey, Elaine’s great-great-grandfather, was shot 14 times and killed by white supremacists on November 10, 1898, leaving his wife, Sallie, a widow.
Elaine Brown, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, along with her siblings, are putting together the fragmented stories of their family and learning about how the massacre shaped their lives. In her personal and artistic life, she tells her stories as Poet E Spoken.
Juanita Lucille Halsey Starks began telling her granddaughter about Wilmington’s 1898 coup d'état and massacre when Elaine Brown was just a toddler. In case you’re new to the narrative: November 10th, 1898, a white mob attacked the people of the City of Wilmington. They killed an unknown number of Black citizens, forced many to leave their homes permanently, and overthrew the city government.
Elaine’s grandmother was determined to teach her this history because Elaine was unlikely to learn about the massacre anywhere else. The details of Wilmington’s bloody coup, perpetrated by white supremacists, wasn’t taught in history class or written about in history texts in the late 20th century. Nonetheless, it directly impacted her family, the Halsey family.
Joshua Halsey, Juanita’s grandfather, Elaine’s great-great-grandfather, was shot 14 times and killed that day, leaving his wife, Sallie, a widow.
Sallie Halsey eventually left Wilmington and found her way to New Jersey. Her great-great-granddaughter, Elaine Brown, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, along with her siblings, are putting together the fragmented stories of their family and learning how the massacre has shaped their family history.
She teaches high school in California.
In her personal and artistic life, she calls herself Poet E Spoken as poetry is her storytelling medium of choice. In her memoir, Cried Out Laughing, she weaves a tapestry of family stories through both prose and poetry.
On this edition of CoastLine, we explore why she sees telling her story as her path to power.
Special thanks to UNCW Professor Kim Cook, UNCW’s Restorative Justice Collaborative, and John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel of Third Person Project