On November 10, 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, white business owners, Democratic politicians, and paramilitary white supremacist groups orchestrated the only violent overthrow of a democratically elected government in United States history. This overthrow was the culmination of a Democratic ‘white supremacy’ election campaign. The aftermath saw the stripping of economic, political, and social power from the prosperous black communities and business of Wilmington. Wilmington, prior to the coup, had a black community with economic prosperity and active political engagement compared to much of the post-Reconstruction South. A 2006 report by the Wilmington Race Riot Commission, created by the state legislature, found that this event impacted black rights and power both in the city and across the state and found that many of these issues continue, including economic gaps and voting restrictions. Historical revisionism covered up what happened in Wilmington, leaving the coup out of the historical record and depriving survivors, their decedents, and Wilmington’s black community of justice. The practice of transitional justice can help recover the truth of the events through truth commissions historical preservation of documents and artifacts. Restorative justice methods can also be used to examine how the events can be remembered through memorialization and in educational curriculum and programming. Transitional justice presents a chance to reclaim the truth of the past and potential avenues of justice, restitution, and reconciliation that addresses past wrongs.
In 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, white business owners, Democratic politicians, and paramilitary groups orchestrated the only overthrow of an elected government in United States history through a campaign of white supremacy. In the aftermath, white leaders stripped the black communities of Wilmington of their social, economic, and political power. A 2006 state commission report found that the loss of black rights and power had a significant impact and led to economic gaps and voting restrictions that continue today. Historical revisionism and cover-ups denied justice to survivors of the coup, their descendants, and the black community at large in Wilmington. Transitional justice presents ways to reclaim the truth and avenues of justice, restitution, and reconciliation for the wrongs of the past.