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1898 Coup Still Echoes In United States Today; “Scene on Radio” Asks Us to Listen

CONTACT: Sarah Rogers
sarah.rogers@duke.edu
(919) 660-3035

DURHAM, N.C. – The sixth season of the acclaimed podcast “Scene on Radio will focus on the only successful coup d’état in United States history, in 1898 — when white supremacists seized political power and massacred Black citizens in Wilmington, North Carolina, then a thriving majority-Black community and the most populous city in the state.

Launching on January 10, the five-episode season, titled “Echoes of a Coup,” uses archival sources, scene-based recordings, interviews with historians, and the voices of community members to bring Wilmington to life — before, during, and after the coup. Drawing parallels between 1898 and the present day, it also examines the U.S. in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, as support for political violence rises and attacks on democratic institutions proliferate.

Since 2015, “Scene on Radio” has explored complex social and political topics like racism (“Seeing White”), patriarchy (“Men”), and democracy (“The Land That Has Never Been Yet”) through carefully researched and dynamically paced audio storytelling. Propelled largely by word of mouth to millions of downloads, it has received critical acclaim, including Peabody Award nominations in 2017 and 2020.

“Scene on Radio” host, journalist, and audio producer John Biewen joined the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University as Director of Storytelling and Public Engagement in May 2023. He and “Echoes of a Coup” co-host Michael A. Betts II, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at UNC Wilmington, produced this season of “Scene on Radio” in collaboration with America’s Hallowed Ground, a signature program of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, which works with communities using artistic expression to tell the stories of local sites where historic struggle and violence occurred.

“When it was founded in the 1990s, the Kenan Institute for Ethics was charged with educating the public about the importance of responsible citizenship in ensuring the well-being of society,” said David Toole, the institute’s director. “Currently, I can think of no greater moral challenge we face as citizens than the one to democracy. In its new season, ‘Scene on Radio’ does again what it has done so well before: it helps us see the challenges of our present by reexamining the past.”

“Wilmington 1898 is one of many pivotal episodes in U.S. history that too few Americans know about,” said Biewen. “‘Echoes of a Coup’ examines why that’s the case. White supremacy doesn’t just lead to failures of democracy; it makes it so that we can’t even imagine there was ever an alternative.”

“I knew we had to focus on what was lost,” said Betts. “Before 1898, Wilmington was a functioning multiracial democracy. Black aldermen were being elected to office and Black-owned businesses were thriving. White supremacists blew that world off the map. If we hadn’t lost that, who knows what kind of world we might be living in today?”

Running from January 10 to February 7, with a new episode released weekly, the sixth season of “Scene on Radio” will be available on all major podcast distribution platforms. The season trailer is available here.