About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy"

McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
February 3, 2020

Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased you could join us for this afternoon’s program, whether you are here in the theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube.

Before we hear from today’s speaker, though, I’d like to tell you about two other programs coming up soon in the McGowan Theater.

This week, from February 5th to 9th, we will be hosting our 16th Annual Showcase of Academy Award–Nominated Documentaries and Short Subjects. From Wednesday through Sunday, we will show the nominated films in four categories: Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, Live Action Short Film, and Animated Short Film. Once again, this event has proven to be very popular and most of the screenings are at capacity. However, if you would like to put on a waitlist, please go to the National Archives Foundation website at archivesfoundation.org. Walk-ins will be admitted 15 minutes before the start time, depending on available seats.

And on Wednesday, February 12, at noon, Craig Fehrman will tell us about his new book, Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote, and share his insights about the Presidents through their literary works.

To keep informed about events throughout the year, check our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Check out their website—ArchivesFoundation.org—to learn more about them and join online.

* * *

Even those of us who believe we have at least passing knowledge of significant events of our past can come across stories that still shock and amaze us.

The events described in David Zucchino’s new book make up such a story. In Wilmington’s Lies, Zucchino brings a lost history to the surface.

When one hears what happened in Wilmington in November 1898, the first reaction is “how did I not know about this?” After disrupting an election, armed men swept through the city and killed at least 60 people. Over the next few months, more than 2,000 African Americans fled and never returned to their homes. White supremacists took over the local government, and a city that had had a burgeoning African American middle class, whose members were active participants in civic life, was forever changed.

In a recent NPR interview, David Zucchino called what happened in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898 “America’s first and only armed overthrow of a legally elected government.” He added that “it was not a race riot; it was a coup, and it was premeditated.”

The facts of the story need no embellishment. In the New York Times, reviewer Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., said “[Zucchino’s] moral judgment stands at a distance. He simply describes what happened and the lies told to justify it all.” In short, Glaude calls Wilmington’s Lie a “brilliant new book.”

* * *

David Zucchino is a contributing writer for the New York Times and a former national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Before moving to the LA Times, he worked for 20 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer as the bureau chief in Beirut, Nairobi, and Johannesburg. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for reporting from South Africa and is a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for coverage of Iraq, Lebanon, Africa, and inner-city Philadelphia. He is the author of the books Thunder Run and Myth of the Welfare Queen.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome David Zucchino.