NPR: How The Only Coup D’Etat In U.S. History Unfolded

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Think of a coup d'etat and images of a far-flung banana republic likely come to mind. So it might come as a surprise that it happened here in the United States — just once, in 1898.

A mob of white supremacists armed with rifles and pistols marched on City Hall in Wilmington, N.C., on Nov. 10 and overthrew the elected local government, forcing both black and white officials to resign and running many out of town. The coup was the culmination of a race riot in which whites torched the offices of a black newspaper and killed a number of black residents. No one is sure how many African-Americans died that day, but some estimates say as many as 90 were killed.

"Some of the elderly African-Americans told my stepfather that the Cape Fear River was running red with blood," Bertha Todd, a teacher, recalls in producer Alan Lipke's documentary series, "Between Civil War and Civil Rights."

Especially chilling was the fact that the insurgency had been carefully planned — a conspiracy by powerful white Democrats.

Read or better yet listen to it all. I happened to catch this via NPR's story of the day podcast and thought it particularly important today given what happened last night. It is good to be reminded of how far we have come (even though there is much work still to do)--KSH.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchRace/Race Relations* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

Posted August 29, 2008 at 9:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. libraryjim wrote:

I wonder what would happen if we elected a President and majority in Congress who decided to suspend the Constitution and Supreme Court and instill a dictatorial or socialist form of government?

What recourse would we, the people, have to restore our Republic form of Government?

Jim Elliott

August 29, 10:24 am | [comment link]
2. driver8 wrote:

Hang on - I thought you had a coup d’etat in 1776?

August 29, 10:45 am | [comment link]
3. evan miller wrote:

It’s called the Second Amendment.

August 29, 10:54 am | [comment link]
4. Creedal Episcopalian wrote:

#3 Which is what makes gun control such an important issue for politicians of a certain persuasion.

August 29, 11:12 am | [comment link]
5. William P. Sulik wrote:

hmmm… only?  I’m not sure about that - there was the Colfax Massacre in Louisiana on Easter 1873 - a very similar situation - white Democrats attacked elected Republicans (mostly black) who had taken refuge in the courthouse.  When the white Democrats set fire to the courthouse, the Republicans surrendered and were subsequently executed.  Over 100 black Republicans were killed and three white Democrats died (most likely shot in cross-fire from other Democrats).  Some of the perpetrators were tried and found guilty, however the Supreme Court threw out the convictions due to a failure in the charges brought. 

Two books have recently come out about this injustice:
*  Keith, LeeAnna, The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, & The Death of Reconstruction, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
*  Lane, Charles, The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2008.
I have read Lane’s book and it is excellent, although I found the sections discussing the intricacies of the law to be a little thinner than I would like to see.  (To be fair, this is a book of popular history, and not a law review article.)

August 29, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
6. evan miller wrote:

As for packing the federal bench, the Democrats under Clinton packed it with left-wing ideologues who have utterly trampled the will of the people in countless cases where they override the will of state legislatures and the results of referendums.

August 29, 1:00 pm | [comment link]
7. phil swain wrote:

driver8, a coup d’etat is the sudden overthrow of a government by a group of persons in positions of authority or previously in positions of authority in deliberate violation of constitutional forms(American Heritage Dictionary).  Of course, our Founding Fathers had not been nor were in significant positions of authority in the English government and more importantly like good British subjects they were punctilious is setting forth their right of self-government according to the British Constitution.

August 29, 1:05 pm | [comment link]
8. libraryjim wrote:

Hardly, Hopper.  The Republicans have always had one central theme to their style of governing: respect for original intent in interpreting the Constitution. 

The Democrats instead insist on ‘legislating from the bench’ when they can’t get their own programs approved.

August 29, 2:06 pm | [comment link]
9. libraryjim wrote:

Yes, we had a coup d’etat against George III ... perhaps it’s time to have another against George II.  But it will be better if this can be achieved via the election process rather than by coup d’etat. 

Um, Hopper? In case you didn’t know it—George Bush is NOT running for any office this time around.

August 29, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
10. RS Bunker wrote:

Wow! I’m just glad that NPR is finally willing to admit that george W. bush won the 2000 election.


August 29, 2:50 pm | [comment link]
11. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I’m shocked NPR would run a story that reveals a glimpse of the actual history of the Democrat Party.

August 29, 3:28 pm | [comment link]
12. driver8 wrote:

#8 I think you’ll find that several of them had held significant positions of responsibility in British local government of the colonies and some had experience in serving in the British military. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…

August 29, 3:50 pm | [comment link]
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