Audiobook Review: Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy


Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino, Narration by Victor Bevine

“One of the great journalists of our time has placed his discerning eye on the steaming cauldron of our shared racial history. The result is this extraordinary book written with the superb quality and journalistic excellence that is Zucchino’s trademark.”

James McBride, National Book Award–winning author of The Good Lord Bird

In 1898 a group of white supremacists hatched a plan to thwart an election, stage a “race riot” (in reality a white rebellion which ended up taking the lives of an estimated 60 African Americans), and instigate a coup to put themselves in charge of the municipal government of the city of Wilmington, North Carolina. At the time, the city was the largest black majority city in the former Confederacy.

Not only did their plan succeed, but it drove the final nail in the progress of Reconstruction and set the stage for the rise of Jim Crow.

In David Zucchino’s 2020 Pulitzer Prize winning book, he peels away the years of lies and half-truths to tell the story of the planning that led up to the harrowing days around the election of 1898 in Wilmington. It’s a story of how a dedicated press outlet was used to foment anger and resentment. It’s a story of how white supremacists worked to ensure one side of the coming conflict was fully armed, while the other was deprived of any opportunity to arm themselves. It’s a story of terror, intimidation, murder and insurrection.

It’s quite frustrating to read in the closing chapters of this book how Federal authorities turned a blind eye and took no actions after this open insurrection and murder. The lesson taken to heart by white supremacists throughout the South was that you could kill your fellow American, deprive him of his right to vote, and take away his seat at the table of government so long as he were black. And so it was for the next 60 years.

It’s a sad statement, and an understatement, to say that this book continues to hold lessons for us today. Over the last several years white supremacy has once again put down the dog whistle and taken off it's mask as it has tried to force its way to the center of our national life. One hundred and twenty odd years after Wilmington, the rhetoric and the tone of the arguments has not changed. The stated aim of the white supremacists of 1898 to take control by the “ballot or the bullet or both” sounds eerily similar to the calls of the Trumpist so-called patriots who stormed our nation’s capital in 2020.

RATING: Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Title: Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

Author: David Zucchino

Publisher: Recorded Books Audio

Publish Date: January 17, 2020

ISBN-13: Not Available

Publisher’s List Price: Not available directly from the publisher