Nov. 10, 1898, is an infamous day that forever exemplifies a tyrannical government’s capacity to murder and terrorize, even here in North Carolina. Most are unaware that this day also helped spawn many draconian laws that carry the echoes of terror even today.

These terrorists and their sympathizers eventually implemented liquor prohibition, alcohol-control state laws — including the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission — state income taxes, state sales taxes, restricted voting rights, various race-based laws,, and limited political representation. Their vicious control was tied to their racist, big government ideology.  

In addition to being ethnic cleansing and a riot, the evil that took place on that day is widely considered the only successful coup d’etat in U.S. history. Innocent lives were brutally taken, peaceful people were threatened and banished, property robbed and destroyed, and official government seats were uncivilly stolen. And all of this was accomplished without one single evildoer ever being held accountable for unjust atrocities. 

This coup d’etat occurred right here in Wilmington, North Carolina.  

It had been around 30 years since the end of the Civil War and the signing of the Reconstruction Amendments, and many Southerners were still angered. By the 1890s, North Carolina had seen a significant increase in the number of Fusionists, who consisted of whites and blacks cooperating to create a post-Civil War state, with their own new set of pros and cons. The interracial cooperation led to the production of numerous race-bait cartoons and articles leading up to Nov. 10. It was the 1896 election of Republican Gov. Daniel Lindsay Russell that sparked outrage for Democratic white supremacist leaders in North Carolina.  

A dark coalition of bigoted Democrats was aided by paramilitary support from the Ku Klux Klan and Red Shirts. These groups terrorized, whipped, and murdered those who actively voted against them or voiced opinions that opposed their posturing and power. The segregationist Red Shirt movement — in a move similar to the communist and socialist Red Shirts of Europe, Russia, Mexico, etc. — incited violence to advance what they perceived as “the common good.” 

Such devious efforts in North Carolina were led by people such as Furnifold Simmons, Alfred M. Waddell, Josephus Daniels, and Charles B. Aycock. These tyrants would lead a committee that started a slithering movement called the White Declaration of Independence, in which they wanted to forcefully remove any and all power from blacks and prevent Republicans from serving in government within North Carolina. Many of their caricatures portrayed blacks as lazy, drunkards, ignorant, rapists, and uncivil. They wanted to scourge the entire population of North Carolina to “purify” it in the way they thought best

Furnifold Simmons rallied hateful troops by calling on men who could “write, speak, and ride” for the white cause in November 1898. Simmons particularly despised pubs and distilleries, more for political and racial reasons than for health or civic purposes. He worked tirelessly throughout his career to end them and make North Carolina the first Southern state to pass statewide prohibition laws. Simmons associated distilleries with black “Republican recruiting stations.” 

Alfred M. Waddell wrote and spoke loudly in front of crowds calling for mass murder and violence against blacks in North Carolina, encouraging white supremacists to kill any black man seen voting in November 1898. Waddell acted as significant support for Simmons and Aycock. 

Josephus Daniels, publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer, led the newspapers in the printing of false narratives and racist propaganda, stoking the flames of racial tensions, fearmongering, and provoking outright violence. With his caricatured portrayal of black men, he associated any and all consumption of alcohol with belligerence, rape, and general fears of chaos.  

Charles B. Aycock ran his entire North Carolina political campaign around the ideas of what author Gregory P. Downs called, “[White supremacy and the] management of the state through education, public health, segregation, disenfranchisement, and alcohol prohibition.”  

The riot wasn’t their last word

By the end of the bloody day of Nov. 10, 1898, at least 60 people had been murdered, with some counts suggesting upwards of 200. The coup mocked existing laws, tore officials from their political seats, and set a precedent for an era that would send a cruel message across the entire state, while allowing the perpetrators to maintain significant control.  

For nearly 40 years total, Simmons held control and authority over North Carolinians, in what is known as the “Simmons Machine,” through acts of despotism, nepotism, and favoritism. This is still echoed throughout the alcohol control state laws, particularly with the appointing of officials in the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission network in North Carolina today. The legacy perseveres, perpetuating nepotism and favoritism while sacrificing civility, liberty, and markets.  

When the first ABC store was opened in North Carolina by the General Assembly in 1935, after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, it was approved in order to raise more money and taxes for implementing the New Deal in the state through a state monopoly on alcohol sales.

Even when the reign of terror by Red Shirts, KKK, and others had subsided, and the centralized control of white supremacists began to deteriorate in North Carolina, some of their initiatives continued on. The ABC System is certainly a notable example.