November 10th, 1898

Whites Mobs Expel Integrated City Government in Wilmington, North Carolina

The only acknowledged coup d’etat in United States history occurred on November 10, 1898, when mobs of armed white supremacists descended on city hall in Wilmington, North Carolina, and forced both black and white elected officials to resign. Two days earlier, the City of Wilmington had held elections and voted in a biracial government, to the dismay of white groups known as “Red Shirts” who had tried to intimidate black voters.

The insurrection was the apex of frustration among white Southern Democrats in North Carolina who had lost governing power to an interracial Republican Party in 1894. As they planned to forcibly regain power in the state, Southern Democrats projected their commitment to white supremacy and trumpeted their conviction that white women were endangered by free black men. The mobs’ takeover of the local government was the culmination of two days of post-election rioting, in which armed whites destroyed black businesses and killed dozens of black residents.

The white supremacist mobs were led by Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, who declared in an election speech that he would “choke the current of the Cape Fear River” with black bodies. Among the businesses destroyed in the riot was a black newspaper led by Alex Manly, whose writing openly denounced the lynching of black men accused of having relationships with white women. The exact number of black people killed in the riot is unknown, but some estimates are as high as 100. President William McKinley declined to intervene or provide assistance to Wilmington’s black residents; the mobs, permitted to seize political control of the city, appointed Colonel Waddell as Wilmington’s new mayor.