Wilmington Insurrection of 1898


2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the only successful coup d’état in United States history, the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. The coup saw the eviction of the elected government of Wilmington,  North Carolina by white supremacists and remains a severely underreported event of racial injustice.


What Happened?

Following the Union’s 1865 victory at the conclusion of the American Civil War, Reconstruction-era policies allowed for the political participation of African-Americans in state governments in former states of the confederacy, especially in North Carolina. 

However, this progress was short lasting. Democrats known as “Redeemers”, who sought to reestablish white supremacy in the South, won elections throughout the region. 

The Redeemer rise was quickly challenged by the fusion of the Populist and Republican parties, which cooperated in elections to counteract the massive Democratic party of the time. The concept, known today as “fusionism,” proved successful for the coalition and led to them securing several state-level offices.

Collaboration between the NC Democratic Party’s chairman, Furnifold Simmons, and News and Observer’s publisher at the time, Josephus Daniels, led to a massive propaganda project which aimed to divide the fusion coalition by using racially charged political cartoons and messaging prior to the 1898 election.  

The Daily Record, a Wilmington-based African-American newspaper, published an editorial in response to a Georgia woman’s speech that criticized the commonly-held notion that Black men were of threat to white women.


The editorial response, which pointed out the rape of Black women by white men and that many white women have been in consensual relationships with Black men, further fueled racial tensions in the State. At the time, Wilmington was a thriving majority-Black city that boasted a strong economy due to its prominent commercial port and vibrant Black middle class. 

As North Carolina grew closer to the 1898 elections, paramilitary terrorists associated with the Democratic Party (known as Red Shirts) began harassing Republican voters and even attempted to lynch the Governor of North Carolina upon his visit to Wilmington. Although Democrats won many of the elections with similar violent methods, the fusionists controlled the position of Mayor as it was not up for election.

In a later gathering of six-hundred men, the White Declaration of Independence had been signed. The white supremacist declaration included demands by the writers to remove the Black government of the city, expel the Daily Record’s editor from the area, and essentially end African-American voter participation. 


After the declaration was signed, it was sent to a group of prominent Black citizens in the town known as the Committee of Colored Citizens. Outraged by the document, they released a statement of their own:


“We, the colored citizens, to whom was referred the matter of expulsion from the community of the person and press of A. L. Manly [Publisher of the Daily Record], beg most respectfully to say that we are in no way responsible for, nor in any way condone, the obnoxious article that called forth your actions.”


A white mob led by Alfred Waddell later armed and burned down the Daily Record’s office. Fueled further by a rumor that a group of white men was attacked by a group of Black residents, the event erupted into a mob of over 2,000 people storming and attacking the city’s Black neighborhoods. Mayor Silas P. Wright and other key Republican city officials were forced out of their offices at gunpoint and subsequently replaced with a city council that elected Waddel as Mayor. 



As a result of the violence, an estimated 300 Black residents were murdered and about 2,000 were displaced. 

Waddell remained in office as city mayor until 1906, and many others involved with the massacre gained other political positions later in their life with little to no repercussions. For example, Charles Brantley Aycock, Robert Broadnax Glenn, W.W. Kitchin, and Cameron Morrison, people with significant involvement in the event, all became Governors of North Carolina.

The coup continued to impact Black people within the state as it led to massive disenfranchisement for the group as well as the introduction of some of the first Jim Crow racial hierarchy laws. 



Efforts have been made to recognize and understand the events that took place in 1898. Commissions like the 1998 Centennial Commission and the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission were established to further this goal. The latter of the two was created by the North Carolina state legislature and studied the event for 6 years. Though the commission recommended pieces of legislation that would provide reparations and scholarships to descendants of the victims of the massacre, ultimately, the North Carolina legislature did not pass any of the bills. 

Some of the only modern recognition of the event comes through historical plaques and small monuments; this is little in impact compared to the massive value reparations, scholarships, and minority investment that would be necessary to mitigate the everlasting damage that was ensued upon the African-American community of the town.