Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina are locked in a battle over which party inherits the shame of Jim Crow.

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By the time the fire started, Alexander Manly had vanished. That didn’t stop the mob of 400 people who’d reached his newsroom from making good on their promise. The crowd, led by a former congressman, had given the editor-in-chief an ultimatum: Destroy your newspaper and leave town forever, or we will wreck it for you.

They burned The Daily Record to the ground.

It was the morning of November 10, 1898, in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the fire was the beginning of an assault that took place seven blocks east of the Cape Fear River, about 10 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. By sundown, Manly’s newspaper had been torched, as many as 60 people had been murdered, and the local government that was elected two days prior had been overthrown and replaced by white supremacists.

For all the violent moments in United States history, the mob’s gruesome attack was unique: It was the only coup d’état ever to take place on American soil.

What happened that day was nearly lost to history. For decades, the perpetrators were cast as heroes in American history textbooks. The black victims were wrongly described as instigators. It took nearly a century for the truth of what had really happened to begin to creep back into public awareness. Today, the old site of The Daily Record is a nondescript church parking lot—an ordinary-looking square of matted grass on a tree-lined street in historic Wilmington. The Wilmington Journal, a successor of sorts to the old Daily Record, stands in a white clapboard house across the street. But there’s no evidence of what happened there in 1898.

Conservatives in North Carolina don’t often bring up the Wilmington Massacre. Even many of those North Carolinians who are now aware of it are still reluctant to talk about it. Those who do sometimes stumble over words like “insurrection” and “riot”—loaded terms, and imprecise ones.

Not only was it a coup, though, the massacre was arguably the nadir of post-slavery racial politics.

That’s why it was so shocking when, on Monday, the state’s GOP executive director, Dallas Woodhouse, openly acknowledged the massacre on Twitter. In response to a tweet from the North Carolina Democratic Party about the Voting Rights Act, Woodhouse criticized what he saw as hypocrisy. “The events of Nov. 10, 1898 were a result of the long-range campaign strategy by Democratic Party leaders to regain political control of Wilmington,” he wrote, “at that time (the) state’s most populous city – and North Carolina in the name of white supremacy.”

Woodhouse may have been more interested in gaining political points than actually probing a painful memory in North Carolinian history. (He didn’t respond to a request for an interview.) But Woodhouse’s version is actually much closer to the truth of what transpired than many other accounts.





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