The coup occurred after the state's white Southern Democrats conspired and led a mob of 2,000 white men to overthrow the legitimately elected local Fusionist government. They expelled opposition black and white political leaders from the city, destroyed the property and businesses of black citizens built up since the Civil War, including the only black newspaper in the city, and killed an estimated 60 to more than 300 people. It has been described as the only incident of its kind in American history, because other incidents of late-Reconstruction Era violence did not result in the direct removal and replacement of elected officials by unelected individuals.
The Wilmington coup is considered a turning point in post-Reconstruction North Carolina politics. It initiated an era of more severe racial segregation and effective disenfranchisement of African Americans throughout the South
The Big Four and The Ring vs. The Secret Nine:
By 1898, Wilmington's key political power was in the hands of "The Big Four", who were representative of the Fusion party – the mayor, Dr. Silas P. Wright; the acting sheriff of New Hanover County, George Zadoc French; the postmaster, W. H. Chadbourn; and businessman Flaviel W. Fosters, who wielded substantial support and influence with black voters. The "Big Four" worked in concert with a circle of patrons – made up of about 2,000 black voters and about 150 whites – known as "The Ring." The Ring included about 20 prominent businessmen, about six first- and second-generation New Englanders from families that had settled in the Cape Fear region before the War, and influential black families such as the Sampsons and the Howes.
Simmons decided to build a campaign around the issue of white supremacy, knowing that the question would overwhelm all other issues. He began working with The Secret Nine, who volunteered to use their connections and funds to advance his efforts. He developed a strategy to recruit men who could "Write, Speak, and Ride." Writers were those who could create propaganda in the media. Speakers were those who would be powerful orators. And Riders were those who could ride a horse and be intimidating