The only successful coup d’état in American history occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. In that year a white mob took control of the city by force, whisking away its democratically elected integrated government.
Crow tells the story of Wilmington in 1898 through Moses Thomas, a 12-year-old boy from a black middle-class family. In the first half of the book Moses tells us about his day-to-day life. We learn about Moses mother, who loves music and works as a maid. We learn about Moses grandmother, Boo Nanny, who was a slave until she was 30. And we learn about Moses father, a college educated writer at the Wilmington Daily Record, the only black daily newspaper in the South. Moses father is also an alderman in the city government. Moses tells us about his friend Lewis, and what happens when he borrows Lewis’s bicycle. We see him try to keep a job picking okra, only to lose it because he tells the truth. We see him becoming friends with a white boy named Tommy, and watch as they explore tunnels under the city. The narrative takes over from the vignettes by the time Moses and his father take a train to Fayetteville. When they arrive in Fayetteville, they find themselves in the middle of a white supremacist rally. By the end of the narrative, the government of Wilmington has been forcibly removed by white supremacists.
Democracy is of fundamental importance to Moses father. He views the right to vote as a sacred requirement and he and Moses worked together to encourage blacks to vote. Moses’ father expounds on the value of democracy even as he and other members of the existing government in Wilmington are put on a train by the white mob and exiled from Wilmington.
We have just witnessed a presidential inauguration in this country. An inauguration is, in a way, a symbol of our democracy. It’s a peaceful transfer of power which comes about as a result of an election. This is basic to our country. I had no idea power had ever changed hands as a result of violence in the United States. Crow is a powerful cautionary tale.