Thursday, June 08, 2006

North Carolina Claims America's Only Recorded Coup d'Etat

The AP covers an interesting development from American history:

A state-appointed commission is urging North Carolina to provide reparations for the 1898 racial violence that sparked an exodus of more than 2,000 black residents from Wilmington.

The 500-page report that was produced after six years of study also said the violence, which killed as many as 60 people, was not a spontaneous riot but rather the nation's only recorded coup d'etat.


The 1898 violence began when white vigilantes, resentful after years of black and Republican political rule during Reconstruction, burned the printing press of a black newspaper publisher, Alexander Manly.

Violence spread, resulting in an exodus of 2,100 blacks, the commission concluded. Then the largest city in the state, Wilmington flipped from a black majority to a white majority in the months that followed.

Before the violence, which led to a Democratic takeover from Republicans and Populists, black men in North Carolina had been able to vote for about three decades. But Democrats quickly passed voter literacy tests and a grandfather clause, which disenfranchised black voters until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


Some previous historical accounts had portrayed the incident as spontaneous, although more recently, historians have described it as a coup d'etat.

"This sets the record straight," Wright said. "Now there is an official document confirming this part of North Carolina's - and America's - history. Nowhere in the United States has a legitimate government ever been overthrown."

The basic problem with reparations is that the amount of time passed is beyond any imaginable statute of limitations. The people who were hurt are long dead, as are any who might have been at fault.

The story is interesting because of its historical label, not because the violence or results stand out in history. There doesn't seem to be any indication that the Democrats' coup was endorsed by the state itself. While broadly demanding state and federal funding for special projects, there is little indication of who could still be considered liable.

Several of the so-called "reparations" measures would be based on racial discrimination rather than identification of the descendents of actual victims. By that logic, Republicans must equally deserve reparations - regardless of actual connection to the event in question.

In other views, a UNC law professor sees this as a perfect excuse for reparations, but doesn't address why those not effected should benefit or why those not at fault should be punished. On the other side, at Rhymes With Right, a history teacher analyzes in detail the appropriateness of reparations, concluding:
So I encourage the building of monuments to prick the conscience, the establishment of educational programs to dispel the ignorance that is racism, and the recommitment of our society to eradicating government imposed barriers to equality for all Americans. But financial reparations at this late date would be simply one more injustice added to the tab of those who overthrew the elected government of Wilmington, murdered its citizens, and destroyed a community.
Wilmington, North Carolina now claims America's only recorded coup d'etat. That's interesting, but not a reason to confiscate and redistribute money from unconnected citizens or enshrine racial discrimination as a belated and convoluted attempt at a remedy.

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