Wilmington 1898

I first learned about what was formerly referred to as the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot in a North Carolina history class taught by Dr. Karl Campbell at Appalachian State University. Note: the events have been renamed the Wilmington Coup. The story horrified me because I care deeply about democracy and justice. After further research, I worked on a novel as a way to respond to and engage with this history.

I want to highlight some of the work available on this history, honoring the hard work and insight of others who share my desire to bring this history to light.

For an excellent and concise overview, check out this video report provided by Vox news: https://www.vox.com/2019/6/20/18693018/white-supremacists-overthrew-government-north-carolina

The richest source of information on these events is the report offered by 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission established by the NC General Assembly in 2000. Here is the link: https://www.ncdcr.gov/about/history/1898-race-riot . This report was written by principal researcher LeRae Umfleet of North Carolina’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. A print version of this comprehensive resource is available for purchase, entitled A Day of Blood: The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot.

Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and its Legacy edited by David Cecelski and Timothy Tyson, provides a concise history of the riot as well as scholarly and illuminating essays.

I highly recommend Ida: A Sword Among Lions, the biography of Ida B. Wells for many reasons. Relevant to this history, the book includes a glimpse into the reaction of African American activists at the time.

Recently North Carolina film maker Chris Everett directed and produced a documentary called Wilmington on Fire (and I had the privilege of meeting him once–what a nice guy). His film tells the history and includes special focus on the economic impact. I found it well worth watching. Find out more at this site: http://wilmingtononfire.com.

The first to write a fictional version of this event was Charles W. Chesnutt, an African American whose family witnessed this violent coup and massacre. His book, The Marrow  of Tradition, offers harrowing glimpses of this time period. The Norton Critical Edition of this novel provides historical documents and literary analysis. I should note that Chesnutt changes the names of key individuals and even the name of the city.

For a fictionalized version of this history, try Philip Gerard’s Cape Fear Rising.

A middle grade/young adult novel that tells this history through the eyes of a 12-year-old African American boy is Crow by Barbara Wright.

I also liked a children’s book by Celia Bland called The Conspiracy of the Secret Nine.

Another book that was helpful to me since my main characters are well-meaning liberal white women (I know, I know) was Carla Kaplan’s Miss Anne in Harlem, exploring stories of white women drawn to African American culture at the turn of the century, which included as many cringeworthy moments as one might expect (by the so-called Miss Annes, I should add, not Kaplan, whose writing is exceptional).