Earlier in October, the North Carolina Department of Natural & Cultural Resources’ hosted their monthly Flyleaf Facebook Live conversation with UNC Press author Kenneth Robert Janken and UNC Wilmington’s Director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center Sean Palmer. Palmer and Janken discussed Janken’s book The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s and the how its relevant to current events.
In February 1971, racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, culminated in four days of violence and skirmishes between white vigilantes and black residents. The turmoil resulted in two deaths, six injuries, more than $500,000 in damage, and the firebombing of a white-owned store, before the National Guard restored uneasy peace. Despite glaring irregularities in the subsequent trial, ten young persons were convicted of arson and conspiracy and then sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. They became known internationally as the Wilmington Ten. A powerful movement arose within North Carolina and beyond to demand their freedom, and after several witnesses admitted to perjury, a federal appeals court, also citing prosecutorial misconduct, overturned the convictions in 1980.
Kenneth Janken narrates the dramatic story of the Ten, connecting their story to a larger arc of Black Power and the transformation of post-Civil Rights era political organizing.
Kenneth Janken is professor of African American and Diaspora studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Sean Palmer has served as the Director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington since March 2016.