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CoastLine: Elaine Brown on her ancestors, victims of Wilmington's 1898 coup d'état, and reclaiming her power through poetry

Elaine Brown
Elaine Brown
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Elaine Brown is a descendant of Joshua Halsey, who was murdered in the Wilmington, NC white supremacist coup d'état.

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.

Resources: 

Restorative Justice Collaborative, University of North Carolina Wilmington

New Hanover County Remembrance Project

Third Person Project

Wilmington African American Remembrance Project

Special thanks to UNCW Professor Kim Cook, UNCW’s Restorative Justice Collaborative, and John Jeremiah Sullivan and Joel Finsel of Third Person Project

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 2 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.