Monday, February 27, 2012

Sayles: Racial Military Coup in North Carolina, 1898

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviews John Sayles (who visits today) about his new novel, A Moment in the Sun, which features many forgotten events of late 19th century history, among them the seizure of power by white militants from duly elected Black officials in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898.

AMY GOODMAN: There are so many stories in this. I mean, how does Wilmington, North Carolina, relate?

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, Wilmington was, in 1898, a city that was probably two- or three-to-one African American to white. Because African-American men could vote—women of no race could vote at that point—they had city councilmen who were African American, firemen, policemen, who had the right, even if they didn’t exercise it very often, to arrest white people. And that didn’t sit well with the kind of old bourbon Democrats, who planned a secret coup that started with intimidating black voters from coming out. Eventually, they purchased a Gatling gun. It was demonstrated to the leaders of the black community, and then told, "Tell your people not to vote tomorrow." On the day after election day, the Gatling gun was kind of wagoned around town. A lot of people were killed. And pretty much anybody they didn’t like, black or white, was put in handcuffs, put on a train, and sent into exile. And after that, a new government was sworn in that day. So it was a racial military coup, that was countenanced by the federal government, because, by this time, they really had decided, "OK, we want Southerners to vote for us. We’ve already pulled our troops out." You know. And I think, in certain cases, just, "Well, things must have been out of control there. I’m glad the white people got them back under control." More.