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Cape Fear Rising

Philip Gerard

John F. Blair, Publisher
$18.95 paperback
5 ½ x 8 ½  
416 pages
Published in 1997

In August 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina, was a Mecca for middle-class Negroes. Many of the city's lawyers, businessmen, and other professionals were black, as were all the tradesmen and stevedores. Negroes outnumbered whites by more than two to one.

But the white civic leaders, many descended from the antebellum aristocracy, did not consider this progress. They looked around and saw working class whites out of jobs. They heard Negroes addressing whites "in the familiar." They hated the fact that local government was run by Republican "Fusionists" sympathetic to the black majority.

Rumors began to fly. The newspaper office turned into an arsenal. Secret societies espousing white supremacy were formed. Isolated incidents occurred: a shot was fired through a streetcar bearing whites, a black cemetery was desecrated.

This incendiary atmosphere was inflamed further by public speeches from an ex-Confederate colonel and a firebrand Negro preacher.

One morning in November, the almost inevitable gunfire began. By the time order was restored, many of the city's most visible black leaders had been literally put on trains and told to leave town, hundreds of blacks were forced to hide out in the city's cemetery or the nearby swamps to avoid massacre, and dozens of victims lay dead.

Based on actual events, Cape Fear Rising tells a story of one city's racial nightmare—a nightmare that was repeated throughout the South at the turn of the century. Although told as fiction, the core of this novel strikes at the heart of racial strife in America.


“No, this is not another sequel to the 1962 movie; it is a complex and convincing . . . story of a little known incident that took place amidst the chaos of the post-Reconstruction South. The villain is not a twisted individual but rather a twisted society, the upper crust of Wilmington, N.C., in 1898. Alarmed by a burgeoning black middle class and a Fusionist-Republican regime favorable to the black majority, a powerful group drawn from the white establishment plots to take back ‘their’ city. Secret, shifting alliances create confusion and discontent among out-of-work whites, and post-election day violence results in the deaths of numerous black citizens and the expulsion of thousands of others. The kaleidoscopic action is seen through the eyes of a fictional reporter newly arrived from Chicago with his wife, Gray Ellen. Her bafflement reflects Southern white society perfectly ‘. . . it was like hearing every second word of a question and being expected to come up with a good answer.’ As the white plotters invent horror stories of dangerous blacks, amass troops and plunge towards violence, blacks walk a thin line between preserving pride and keeping a low profile. . . . Gerard's (Hatteras Light) well-researched story smartly limns the tangled combination of economic, social and visceral elements that led Wilmington to violence and two years later would lead North Carolina to adopt constitutional amendments that virtually disenfranchised blacks.” —Publishers Weekly
“This book is a prime example of how major events in history can go overlooked. These riots in Wilmington did not only affect the city but whole nation in dealing with race relations. With the emergence of Jim Crow in America these riots just reaffirmed the old doctrine of white supremacy. The novel also shows how major a city Wilmington was at the turn of the century. Gerard sums up the events that took place in 1898 in a quote by Edmund Burke in 1789, ‘An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.’ This is true about a lot of American history. Check this book out. You might come away with more than you bargain for.” —Amazon.com reviewer