Review of Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Succhino Rating *****
The book Wilmington’s Lie tells an almost unbelievable story of racism and white supremacy that resulted in the deaths of an estimated sixty black men in Wilmington, South Carolina, in 1898.
Many layers in this story reflect what is happening in America today: how propaganda influences people, media bias, voter suppression, voter intimidation, racial bias, and gerrymandering, to name just a few.
This book proves that the only thing worse than being an enslaved black person is to have been a formerly enslaved black person living in the south.
Much has been written about how freed slaves faced constant harassment and intimidation from whites in the decades since the emancipation proclamation of 1862. Racism has affected blacks in almost every aspect of their lives, from voting rights, property rights, segregation, job opportunities, and a criminal justice system designed to target and unfairly imprison black people.
The story told in Wilmington highlights one sorry episode where a few white supremacists felt so threatened by black representation in their local government that they concocted a series of lies about a supposed planned riot by blacks. Local periodicals backed up the lies. The combined effect was to rile up a white population intent on preventing blacks from voting or being elected into positions of authority. After the killings, the white supremacists elected themselves into various government positions. They then justified their actions to a thankful white population by claiming to have saved the city from black rule.
Author David Zucchino summarizes the events precisely in the epilogue:
They had murdered black men with impunity. They had robbed black citizens of their right to vote and hold public office. They had forcibly removed elected officials from office, then banished them forever. They had driven hundreds of black citizens from their jobs and their homes. They had turned a black-majority city into a white citadel.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2021. I encourage you to read it.