Although it’s hard to believe now, in 1898 a group of white supremacists seized power of the municipal government in Wilmington, North Carolina following a bloody coup d’etat.
The incident, which followed reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, is the only time in American history that any form of US government has been overthrown. Back then, Democrats were a party of conservative racists who hated big government, and Republicans were anti-bigotry liberals who thought the government should do more to enforce equality among blacks and whites (particularly in the South).
Above: Supremacists pose with their guns for a photo in front of a building destroyed during the riot they instigated.
Supremacists killed dozens of people, and forced the sitting Republican mayor and his administration (as well as several members of city council) to resign, virtually if not literally at gunpoint. After the supremacists had usurped power, they put in place mob leader and former confederate soldier Alfred Moore Waddell, who had previously served in the US House of Representatives.
Waddell stayed mayor for six years, before retiring at age 72. Eventually, elections and retirements replaced the other coup leaders who ran Wilmington, and none were ever brought to justice for their illegal seizure of power. The incident is rarely taught about in North Carolina schools.
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