Monday, January 30, 2023




                                          CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY BENJAMIN CRUMP




by Cash Michaels

An analysis

It’s probably accurate to say that North Carolina and the nation are not shocked by the video of the brutal Memphis, Tenn. police beating of Black motorist Tyre Nichols, released and televised last Friday night.

Saddened would be more like it, especially since it was five Black Memphis police officers this time who have since been fired from the force, and charged with a plethora of serious charges, including second-degree murder and kidnapping.

A sixth officer was suspended Monday for his alleged role in the beating, and a seventh officer was also relieved of duty.

And just like the gut-wrenching George Floyd police murder case on May 2020, there are connections back to North Carolina that are now coming into focus. For instance, in the Floyd case, even though he grew up in Houston, Texas, he was actually born near Fayetteville before his family moved to Texas. In fact, George Floyd still has family here in North Carolina, who run a foundation in his name to help young people. And the first memorial service in Floyd’s honor was held just outside of Fayetteville.

While the murder victim, Tyre Nichols, 29, has no connection to North Carolina that we know of, the African American Memphis police chief who ultimately fired the five Black officers charged with fatally beating and kicking Tyre Nichols, is not only a North Carolina native, but was chief of police in Durham for five years before going to Memphis in 2021.

Cerelyn Davis, better known as Chief “CJ” Davis, is considered a star when it comes to Black female police chiefs in the nation. She was born to a military family at Fort Bragg, and spent several years working her way up in the Atlanta, Ga. Police department (she was once fired, but later reinstated) before coming to Durham in 2016.

Since the Nichols beating, Chief Davis has been lauded for her shift action in firing the five Black officers, and then releasing the body-cam and street video of the incident quickly in an effort to be transparent with the Memphis citizenry.

And she also made clear that she does not condone what happened.

“This is not just a professional failing,” Chief Davis said in a video last week. “This is a failing of basic humanity toward another individual. This incident was heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

Another North Carolina connection to the Nichols case is Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing Nichols’ family.

Crump, also known as the “Black America's attorney general,” is well known for advocating for the families of Black victims of police and racial violence, from Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd, and now Tyre Nichols, to civil rights cases, including the Flint water crisis, and Johnson and Johnson baby powder.

Though his law office is in Tallahassee, Florida, Atty. Crump is a native of Lumberton, NC.

About the Nichols case, Atty Crump has likened it to the level of police brutality last seen in the 1991 Rodney King case.

Needless to say, leaders in North Carolina are paying close attention to the Nichols case.

"The beating and murder of Tyre Nichols is unconscionable, and justice should be served swiftly," Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC-12) wrote. "I am praying for his family and community tonight. "Most of all, I am praying for people across the country to join us in ending extrajudicial police violence."

Rep. Adams new congressional colleague, Rep. Don Davis (D-NC-1) joined in.

"Tyre Nichols’ death is deeply disturbing. This is every parent's worst nightmare. As a father of three young boys, this is the kind of unimaginable tragedy that leaves me heartbroken. I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Nichols family. 

          “Let us keep the Memphis community in our prayers.”





By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Today, February 2nd, is the day the new 5-2 Republican majority state Supreme Court hears oral arguments that could decide once and for all whether over 56,000 former felons will continue to have voting North Carolina.

The new NC Republican - led High Court was impaneled January 1st, but did not begin hearing case arguments until this past Tuesday. Many observers are fearful that the GOP lawmakers will exploit the conservative leaning of the state Supreme Court by petitioning it to rehear cases that the previous Democratic-led Supreme Court has decided against them, particularly redistricting and voting rights.

In the case of Community Success Initiative versus Moore, while the previous Democrat-led state Supreme Court issued several court orders allowing ex-felons on probation, parole or post release supervision the right to vote in the November 2022 midterm elections, the issue itself had not been decided by the time that court had left office on December 31st.

Now, the new conservative High Court gets to make the final state decision, and if it were up to Republican lawmakers, ex-felons would be denied the right to vote until they’ve completed all requirements per their release.

Attorneys for the ex-felons will tell the High Court that this is wrong.

North Carolina required people with previous felony convictions to pay legal financial obligations before they could vote – a practice that disenfranchised thousands of people, predominately people of color. The law was challenged by North Carolinians with prior felony convictions and advocacy groups as a violation of their constitutional rights,” stated  the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs.

“It describes how out of the more than 56,000 people barred from voting due to the law, 42% are Black despite Black people representing only 22% of the state’s population,” continued SPLC.

The question is, during court arguments today, just how partisan will the conservative 5-2 majority of the NC Supreme Court be?


Sunday, January 22, 2023



                                 STATE SEN. KANDIE SMITH (D- EDGECOMBE, PITT)



By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

If Black women in North Carolina want the right to wear their natural hair in any cultural style and condition that they please, they are going to have to fight for it at the General Assembly.

That’s where the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) Act has stalled in passage for the past several years, thanks to the Republican majority who apparently objects to African American hairstyles that don’t fit their idea of good grooming. Advocates say the ability to wear one’s hair in a type and style of one’s choosing is a civil right, and should be protected.

There have been stories of workers, and even children, made to return home because a supervisor or administrator objected to their cultural hairstyle.

State Sen. Kandie Smith (D-Edgecome, Pitt) was the sponsor of the CROWN Act at the General Assembly in February 2021 (HB 170) when she served as a two-term representative prior to being elected to the state Senate.

The bill read:

Enacts new GS 95-28.1 prohibiting any person, firm, corporation, unincorporated association, State agency, local government, or any other public or private entity from denying or refusing employment to any person, or discharging any person from employment, because of traits historically associated with race or on account of the person's hair texture or protective hairstyles (including, but not limited to, bantu knots, braids, locks, and twists). Defines race as including traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles. Specifies that this statute does not prevent a person from being discharged for cause.

Smith’s bill failed passage there, as well as in the state Senate, but she vows that she’s not finished advocating for this basic Black women’s right.

“Passing the CROWN Act in North Carolina was one of my main priorities while serving in the House of Representatives last session, and it will remain one as I begin my first term in the North Carolina Senate,” Sen. Smith said in a statement to this reporter.

“In my experience, the main obstacle we faced in our efforts to pass the CROWN Act was simply that many of my colleagues, particularly my Republican colleagues, just didn’t understand why a bill like this was necessary. A piece of legislation like the CROWN Act would be transformational to the lives and experiences of all North Carolinians, and it would be a major win for the economic and business climate of our state as well.” 

Sen. Smith continued, “Over the past year, I have continued to try and educate my colleagues about the necessity of passing the CROWN Act in North Carolina, and I am hopeful that during this upcoming legislative session we will be able to make further progress on this important issue.”

If Sen. Smith does find a way to convince North Carolina Republicans to support passage of the CROWN Act, she would do well to share that secret with Sen. Cory Booker (D- NJ) in the United States Senate. Booker sponsored passage of the CROWN Act there after the US House passed the measure (H.R. 2116) in March 2022, only to have conservative Senator Rand Paul (Ky) block passage in the Senate.

As of last year, 18 states, led by California which codified the law first, have the CROWN Act on the books.

The other 17 states include New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, Illinois, Maine, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands (Territory).

Whether North Carolina will join the ranks is not clear, especially with Republican lawmakers vowing to oppose anything they consider “woke.”

The same can be said about the CROWN Act’s chances in the U.S. Senate.

“It saddens and angers me that, in the year 2022, something as simple as opposing racial discrimination has become controversial, stated Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) after Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block passage. “My colleagues across the aisle were presented with an opportunity to stand united against discrimination. They chose instead to give in to the climate of division and hyper-partisanship.”

Maryland Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley was just as resolute.

That Republicans would block passage of the CROWN Act in the Senate is unconscionable, but unsurprising given their blatant disregard for civil rights and contempt for Black, brown, and marginalized communities,” said Rep. Pressley. “Black hair is beautiful, and no amount of racism or ignorance from the other side of the aisle will stop the power of our movement. I won’t stop pressing to ban race-based hair discrimination and I urge the Senate to use any legislative avenue to pass this critical bill and send it to President Biden’s desk.”



                                                  NCCU LAW PROFESSOR IRVING JOYNER





By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Professor, attorney and legal analyst Irving Joyner of North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham says now that Republicans have a definitive 5 - 2 majority on the state Supreme Court, the Black community should pay attention to the warnings Democrat Associate Justice Anita Earls issued last week during an MLK holiday speech where she told an audience that citizens should be concerned about the racial disparity in the state’s criminal justice system, and challenged them “to be willing to not be silent.”

Though Republicans won two Democratic seats on the High Court last November, thus taking over the court majority 5-2 January 1st, the justices for the new term don’t begin hearing arguments until January 31st.

With the loss of two of those Democrats in 2022, the Republicans gained complete control of the Court and resulted in the emergence of the most right-wing Court since the 1960s,” Joyner says. “The newly elected members of this new Court have already demonstrated [their] resolve to follow a rigid right-wing judicial philosophy which gives almost complete deference to enactments of the [Republican-led] General Assembly and refuses to give broader and more progressive interpretations to the provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.”

        Evidence of what Prof. Joyner says was on display this week when NC Policywatch reported that Republican legislative leaders have asked the new conservative High Court to throw out the rulings of last year's Democratic-led Supreme Court nullifying voter ID and redistricting, and grant new hearings.

     "This petition is another example of legislative leadership stopping at nothing to infringe on the right of African-Americans to vote freely in North Carolina," said Jeff Loperfido, interim chief counsel of Voting Rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Justice Earls said there are 15-18 judicial clerks for the state Supreme Court at any given time. The clerks work closely with the justices, but presently, there are no African-American clerks. These positions are a gateway to higher legal service.

Joyner says, “In latter elections, Republican candidates for the Supreme Court have been former judicial clerks of the right-wing justices on the Court and their electoral  successes have been strongly promoted by the most right-wing legislators and supporters within the Republican Party. As a result, Republicans have gained control of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and its Supreme Court.”

“Generally, African Americans and attorneys of color have not represented clients in the appellate arena except in those criminal cases which are represented by appointed attorneys through the NC Indigent Defense Services or from civil rights organizations, “ Prof. Joyner continued. “In the absence of an attorney of color appearing in these courts, the views and legal interests of racial minorities are not presented and considered by appellate judges. In addition, new African Americans and attorneys of color are not being hired as judicial clerks because there isn’t a demonstrated interest by the leadership of the Supreme Court in creating and maintaining racial diversity in this judicial pipeline.

Justice Earls did share last week how “…an internal diversity committee that she participated in last year was disbanded recently. When she asked why, Earls says she was told there was no need for it, and what purpose did it serve.” 

"Then she said she was told it was more important to “hire the most qualified people” for the state judiciary.”

Earls did credit Gov. Cooper with finding qualified legal professionals of color to appoint at least a full 40% of all of his appointments to the judiciary.

Joyner applauds the governor for seeking diversity on the bench.

Across the state, there is a wide pool of African Americans and attorneys of color who are qualified to serve as judges and they have been regularly appointed by Governor Cooper and subsequently elected by voters in local communities. That success has not been replicated in statewide elections since the elections of Associate Justices Anita Earls and Michael Morgan.”

Earls said that the governor’s success shows that the potential is out there, and that more can be done to make North Carolina’s criminal justice system representative,

Prof. Joyner says while true, the current composition of the state’s Supreme and Appellate courts does not bode well for African Americans.

Given its present composition and political inclinations, the North Carolina Court system is in danger of following the extreme right-wing drift that we envision to now guide the political based-judicial opinions which we expect from the United States Supreme Court,” Joyner said. 

“This drift will continue unless and until African Americans, people of color and our political leaders develop concentrated campaigns to elect more racially and politically diverse people to our appellate courts. As it stand now, we can expect very conservative decisions from North Carolina’s appellate courts in areas of law which most significantly impact the constitutional and political interests of African Americans, people of color and members of other minority and disadvantaged communities.”

Prof. Joyner continued, “Our courts should be independent and willing to protect the people from the political excesses of the right-wing legislative delegations which seek to exercise absolute control over the lives of North Carolina citizens.”


Monday, January 16, 2023






By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

One of two African American Democrats on the N.C. Supreme Court warned an MLK holiday weekend audience Saturday that citizens should be concerned about problems of racial disparity in the state’s criminal justice system, and challenged them “…to be willing to not be silent.”

Anita Earls, associate justice of the state High Court and former civil rights attorney, was also critical of the judicial body she’s served on for the past four years, saying that currently, when it comes to recruiting and hiring court clerks of color, there are no African-American law clerks.

Earls told those attending the MLK Weekend Celebration Breakfast January 14th at St. Mary’s FWB Church in Apex that there are anywhere from 15-18 clerks working for the state Supreme Court presently.

According to the UNC School of Law website, judicial clerkships are “one-to two-year paid, post graduate positions with federal, state and some local judges.” They can be hired by an individual judge, or be part of a pool for all judges in a court. Their duties include drafting legal analyses, opinions and orders from the court, as well as doing the legal research required.

Being a clerk, Earls said, can be a gateway to higher positions of service in the legal community. But if people of color are not properly represented, “that has real implications for our profession.”

She also shared how an internal diversity committee that she participated in last year was disbanded recently. When she asked why, Earls says she was told there was no need for it, and what purpose did it serve. 

Then she said she was told it was more important to “hire the most qualified people” for the state judiciary.

Associate Justice Earls credited Gov. Roy Cooper with finding qualified professionals of color to serve in the state’s judiciary. She said 40 percent of the people he has pointed to the bench have been people of color.

“So we know that this potential is out there, and we know that there is more to be done to make our institutions more representative,’ she said.

Regarding North Carolina’s criminal cases, Justice Earls reminded all the she co-chairs the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity, which has been tasked to examine the state’s  criminal justice system and indicate where there are racial disparities in carrying out equal justice.

She confirmed that there are disparities in the system's outcomes.

There were over a million misdemeanors annually in North Carolina, of which six percent were violent. Traffic offenses made up three quarters of all misdemeanor cases in the state. One out of seven driving age individuals have had their license suspended. 

Over 827,000 have been cited for failure to come to court when required. Over 263,000 have been cited for failure to pay traffic fines 

Justice Earls said a lot of these court cases involve people of color  who cannot afford the cost of court when they are stopped for minor offenses. When they fail to comply with the court, they ultimately lose their driver’s license, restricting their legal ability to operate a vehicle. Without that, they can’t work, can’t make medical appointments, etc.

When it comes to felony offenses, Earls said unfortunately there is a racial disparity in sentencing. 91.5% of the children under the age of 18 in the NC criminal justice system were sentenced to serve life without parole, were children of color.

Gov. Cooper, after review, is commuting some of those sentences as many of those defendants get older, basing it on the positive work they are doing now, not the crimes they committed in the past.

On the civil justice side, Earls said North Carolina has a lot of legal aid attorneys, but there aren’t enough to meet the tremendous need for representation by low-income people across the state. There are more than 2 million eligible North Carolinians.There is one legal aid attorney for every 8,000 who need them for issues like evictions, family law, foreclosures. The percentage of these cases that end up in court with representation is one or two percent. 

Beyond her views of the criminal justice system she serves on the state's highest court, Associate Justice Earls paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., sharing how her father wanted to honor Dr. King by putting a picture of him up in the break room of the hospital where he worked. He was made to take it down.

So, through her family’s history, Earls said she understood the importance of Dr. King’s legacy, and felt that we should work towards honoring the human dignity of all people, instead of playing one race against another.


                                                MARTIN LUTHER KING III



By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Even with a Republican majority in the U.S. House for the new 118th Congress, Pres. Biden could still sign new voting rights protection into law this year, a NC congressperson assures. Just one thing has to happen first.

In the Democrat-led 117th Congress, Democrats in the House passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) and the For the People Act (H.R. 1).

The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, when enacted into law, would restore the full power of the original 1965 Voting Rights Act after it was weakened by two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  It would also protect against racial voter discrimination; re-establish pre-clearance procedures for the U.S.. Dept. of Justice so that no state can pass and implement new election laws and procedures without federal review and approval; protect access to voting for all voters regardless of race, creed or color; and restore the right of all voters to challenge discriminatory voting laws.

The For the People Act, when enacted into law, would expand voter registration by allowing automatic, same-day and online registration; would restrict the U.S. Postal Service from implementing any operational changes at least 120 days prior to an Election Day; reduce long lines for voters by allowing no-excuse vote-by-mail and early voting; restore full voting rights for former felons; limit purging voters from voter rolls and prohibit election misinformation.

Both of those voting rights measures were passed by the House, but hit a brick wall in the Democrat-led U.S Senate because at least one senator in the 50-50 body refused to remove  the Senate filibuster rule which would have allowed passage by all of its Democratic senators..

Thus, both voting rights measures - H.R. ! and H.R. 4 - failed in the Senate.

As a compromise, the Senate introduced the Freedom to Vote Act last September, but that too failed because Democrats could not overcome the filibuster rules. If that had passed both the Senate and House last year, the law would have done most of the things H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 were designed to do, plus outlaw partisan gerrymandering and make Election Day a public holiday.

So now, with a conservative leaning Republican House in power, how can the voting rights measures that failed in the U.S. Senate last year become law now? First, Democrats have enough of a majority to override any vote to uphold the filibuster.

According to NC Rep. Alma Adams, if the Democrat-led Senate passes either H.R. 1 or H.R. 4, or both, without changing a word, or adding anything to what the House passed in 2022, those laws can go straight to Pres. Biden for his signature.

“If it’s not changed, that’s it,” the Charlotte - Mecklenburg U.S. House representative told this reporter. “If it’s not modified in anyway, then it’s a wrap.”

However, if the Senate changes or adds anything, it is required to send the new versions back to the now Republican House, which, in all likelihood, would kill both measures, rather than concur with the bills.

On Monday during an interview on CNN, Martin Luther King III held out faith that voting rights could be achieved soon.

It’s going to be quite difficult for any of that to happen with this Republican-led Congress, but we have to keep exerting pressure on them,” King III said. “Nothing happened in the modern civil rights movement until it happened,”



Monday, January 9, 2023


                                                                  REP. ALMA ADAMS




By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Now that the Republicans in the U.S. House have won a slim majority, and with it, House leadership, beyond governing for all Americans, North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC-12) has one challenge for newly-minted Speaker Kevin McCarthy - “make sure another January 6th never happens again.’

As she took part in last week’s four Republican marathon to choose a House speaker, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Democrat issued a statement on the two-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021 white supremacist siege on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the peril the nation was in then.

“As we remember that day, the pain that persists comes not from Donald Trump and his Administration, the Members of Congress who collaborated with the attackers, or the numerous far-right and white supremacist groups that stormed the Capitol,” Rep. Adams stated.  “We are well-acquainted with the content of their character, or lack thereof. Like the scorpion on the frog, they have shown they cannot change their nature.”

“Instead, our democracy continues to be wounded and threatened by those who abide the scorpions in their midst. 

Rep. Adams lauded the work of the recently ended January 6th Committee, which was chaired by Black Democratic colleague Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, which uncovered important facts revealing former Pres. Donald Trump’s involvement in the U.S. Capitol attack.

“The findings of the January 6th Committee were unambiguous: then-President Donald Trump incited a riot and led an attack on the United States Capitol,” Rep. Adams stated. “I was there that day with two valued members of my staff. Thousands of staff members were traumatized and in fear for their lives. Hundreds of people were injured, including heroic members of the Capitol Police. Some people died because of Donald Trump’s actions. We should never forget them.

“However, due to patriots from both parties, democracy survived, and our country endured. I am thankful for the service of my former (Republican) colleagues, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who put country above party so we could get to the truth of what happened on January 6th, 2021.”

Adams seemed to hold out little hope that now that the Republicans are in charge of the U.S. House, some won’t engage in some of the same activities that led up to the January 6th attack.

Already, GOP congressmen like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and others have promised to use the next two years to investigate Democrats, the FBI and Pres. Biden in an attempt to rewrite history prior to the upcoming 2024 presidential and congressional elections.

Observers say by creating an atmosphere where a Democratic administration is targeted by Republican congressional oversight, that allows many of the same who plotted the January 6th white supremacist attack to plot again without fear of federal law enforcement intervention.

According to the N.Y. Times, for example, a House Judiciary subcommittee headed by Jordan will focus on “the weaponization of the federal government,” including law-enforcement and national-security agencies.” Rep. Jordan says the subcommittee will receive the same funding and support the January 6th Committee got from the just ended Democratic Congress.

The Jordan subcommittee is looking to stop ongoing federal investigations, most likely into those still not prosecuted for the January 6th white supremacist attack. 

In her statement, Rep. Adams states that moderate Republicans similar to former representatives Cheney and Kinzinger will have to step forward and confront the hard right-wing of their party in order stop them down the path that they’re headed.

Democrats alone cannot remove this cancer in our body politic,” Rep. Adams warned. It is time for Republican leaders to remember the fear and anger they felt on that day two years ago, and act to make sure another January 6th never happens again.”


Jazmyne Childs

                                                             REV. CURTIS GATEWOOD




By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

As of now, there is no clear date when former NC NAACP Youth and College Field Secretary Jazmyne Childs and former NC NAACP Interim Field Director Rev. Curtis Gatewood will face each other in a Durham courtroom for Ms. Childs’ sexual harassment case.

According to Attorney Harvey Kennedy of the Winston-Salem law firm of Kennedy, Kennedy and Kennedy, which represents Ms. Childs, the civil litigation trial was supposed to begin next Tuesday, January 17th. But that date was recently continued (postponed) by the court at the request of the attorney for the defendant.

Atty. Kennedy said that the court may decide a new date within a month.

Kennedy added that the trial date had previously been continued to January 17th from an original date after he was involved in a serious accident.

The lawsuit was originally filed in February 2020.

Ms. Childs is suing Rev. Gatewood and the national NAACP for at least $15 million for emotional and mental distress, claiming alleged sexual harassment by Rev. Gatewood when he was her supervisor in 2017.

Ms. Childs maintains that she has suffered from depression, anxiety, nervousness and insomnia as a result.

She also seeks over $5 million in compensatory damages and more than $25,000 in punitive damages on each of three claims of battery, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

She alleges that the national NAACP and its president, Derrick Johnson, did nothing when the harassment was documented by an outside investigator and reported to him in October 2017. Ms. Childs resigned her NC NAACP position in August 2018 because, according to her suit, she feared that Gatewood “would continue to stalk and intimidate her,” even after he received a cease-and-desist letter from her in December 2017.

Johnson did not suspend Gatewood until 2019. Ms. Childs’ lawsuit states that the NAACP “is liable for the misconduct for Gatewood because the National NAACP ratified Gatewood’s conduct.”

The national NAACP president attended the NC NAACP state convention in Winston-Salem, where he “publicly scolded and rebuked Ms. Childs for going to the press and not handling the matter within the organization,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Childs was present and heard President Johnson’s remarks.”

Pres. Johnson was reportedly added to the lawsuit because of his alleged remarks.

For his part, Rev. Gatewood has denied Jazmyne Childs’ sexual harassment allegations, calling them “baseless, frivolous and outrageously nonfactual,” though he reportedly told an Associated Press reporter at the time in an email that while he never intentionally harassed anyone, he realized his actions “may have been received as sexual.”


Monday, January 2, 2023


                                                         THE WILMINGTON TEN







By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

Ten years ago on this date, January 5, 2013, North Carolina history was made when the seven surviving members of the Wilmington Ten - ten social activists who over 40 years earlier had been falsely convicted of firebombing a white-owned grocery store and firing weapons on firefighters and police officers in a riot-torn Wilmington, NC in February 1971 - received their official pardons of innocence.

Then NC Gov. Beverly Perdue, on her last day in office on December 31st, 2012, signed the certificates, effectively exonerating the Ten - nine Black men and one white female, three of them posthumously - of the false charges.

Both historic events a decade ago this week, were the direct result of the advocacy and leadership of late Wilmington Journal publisher/editor Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, who convinced the 200-member National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) to sanction a campaign in March 2011 to have the Wilmington Ten pardoned.

The story is recounted in a new short film titled, “The Legacy of Mary Alice Jervay Thatch,” which will be shown at the upcoming 22nd Annual African-American Cultural Celebration at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh on Saturday, January 28th, from 3:30 to 4 p.m. 

Ms. Thatch, 78, died just a year ago on December 28, 2021 of an undisclosed illness. But upon her death, she was roundly heralded for being a staunch African-American community leader and believer that “There is power in the Black Press.”

Winning pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten is widely considered the hallmark of her journalistic career.

It was February of 2011 when Bill Saffo, the mayor of Wilmington, presided over s 40th anniversary commemoration of the Wilmington Ten at UNC - Wilmington. Saffo publicly apologized to the surviving members of the Ten “…who were done a tremendous injustice by our judicial system…”

        Letters of apology were handed out on stage to the surviving members, as the audience applauded.

But some in the audience, like Wilmington Journal Publisher/editor Mary Alice Thatch, felt that letters of apology weren’t enough for what the Ten had gone through. Thatch called Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader, and president of the NNPA Foundation, recommending that the Black newspaper association take up the cause of the Wilmington Ten on the pages of its member papers.

Leavell agreed, and the following month, during its annual Black Press meeting in Washington, D.C., the NNPA formally adopted getting pardons for the Wilmington Ten as a campaign.

The problem was, no one really knew how to go about attaining pardons , so the NNPA campaign stalled for the rest of 2011.

In 2012, realizing that no progress had been made, Ms. Thatch asked her chief reporter, Cash Michaels, to work with her to help coordinate the  effort. Thatch decided that a committee was needed. But before one could be constituted, Duke University historian Tim Tyson was called by Michaels to possibly help with what would be known as the “Wilmington Ten Pardons Project.”

Prof. Tyson was well versed in Black history, so Michaels felt he could lend an important perspective.

Tyson did more than that. He had a box of paperwork and notes from the original 1972 Wilmington Ten trials (there were two, the first being aborted after an all-Black jury was seated, and the white prosecutor became “sick” to make sure that they never heard the case. The second trial had a mostly white, “KKK” jury).

The box of trial notes proved that the prosecutor set out to seat a racially biased jury, allowing only two “docile” Blacks who would go along with the whites when a verdict was reached.

The box of handwritten prosecution notes - which had unbelievably been in a closet in the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office for virtually 40 years - could prove that the prosecution framed the Wilmington Ten, falsely convicting them of arson and attempting to murder police officers and firefighters.

Irving Joyner, one of the original defense attorneys, had agreed to work with Ms. Thatch in the new pardons effort, noting that what they were really after were pardons of innocence, which denote that a convicted person actually did not commit a crime, versus a pardon, which is official forgiveness for a crime committed.

Joyner contacted lead defense attorney James Ferguson in Charlotte.

The pair reviewed the box of prosecution notes and files from the trials that were held in the Pender County Courthouse in Burgaw, and filed the necessary legal paperwork with the Governor’s office.

Michaels, at the direction of Ms. Thatch, wrote stories not just for the Wilmington Journal, but for NNPA Black newspapers across the state and the nation, detailing how the Wilmington Ten prosecutor, working in tandem with the judge for the second trial, did everything in his power to manipulate the “KKK” jury that was empaneled to ensure guilty verdicts.

Wilmington Ten leader Rev. Benjamin Chavis was included in the strategizing, as was the Rev. Dr. William Barber, then president of the NC NAACP, who put public pressure on Gov. Perdue.

The strategy was simple - don’t antagonize Perdue with raucous demonstrations. She had already proven to be on the side of the African-American community on most issues.

Keeping in constant contact with the governor’s closest aides, the Pardons of Innocence project also contacted the editorial writers at The New York Times, The News and Observer, and even the Star News, the Wilmington white newspaper that 40 years earlier condemned the Wilmington Ten.

All issued editorials calling on Gov. Perdue to issue pardons of innocence, as did cable channel MSNBC.A national petition drive conducted by the progressive group, along with the national NAACP and the Wilmington Journal generated over 150,000 signed petition signatures that were delivered to the governor’s State Capitol office.

At one point, supporters had received unconfirmed word that Perdue was considering just pardons as a way to placate those who demanded that the Ten remain guilty in the eyes of history.

Rev. Chavis stood up at First Baptist Church in Raleigh, declaring that if the governor was issuing just pardons, and not pardons of innocence, he wouldn’t accept, because he had committed no crime.

As 2012 was coming to a close, there was no word from Gov. Perdue. Supporters knew it was either her or nothing, because her term ended after Dec. 31st, and the new governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican, would never entertain issuing the pardons of innocence.

Then, on Dec. 31st. Michaels received a call at home from the Governor’s Office.

Gov. Perdue had signed ten pardons of innocence, all for the Wilmington Ten. The news was reported across the nation and the world.

Five days later, at Gregory Congregational church in Wilmington, a ceremony was held where all seven serving members of the Wilmington Ten received their official certificates before a packed church.

When Mary Alice Alice Jervay Thatch was introduced speak, the audience all stood to their feet, and enthusiastically applauded.

Ms. Thatch smiled, and then proceeded to tell the community what a glorious day it was, and though it took over 40 years, justice had finally come to the Wilmington Ten.

EDITOR’S NOTE -As part of the 22nd Annual African-American Cultural Celebration on Saturday, January 28th at the NC Museum of History, 5 East Edenton Street in Raleigh, there will be a special presentation, “The Legacy of Mary Alice Jervay Thatch,” in the Longleaf  Classroom, SECU Education Center, Level R from 3:30 to 4 p.m.. Admission is free to the public.




By Cash Michaels

Contributing writer

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke, or “brain attack,” than whites. African American men are 70 percent more likely to die from stroke than whites. And Black women are twice as likely to have a stroke than white women.

The North Carolina Stroke Association concurs, adding that the majority of strokes are preventable, but you have to know the risk factors, and be willing to make the necessary changes to your lifestyle.

The risk factors include obesity and being overweight, hypertension  (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and cigarette smoking.

Stroke, though treatable, is the third leading cause of death and disability in North Carolina, which is considered part of the 12 state “Stroke Belt.”

North Carolina has one of the highest stroke death rates in the nation - sixth highest among 50 states.

Those are the plain, unvarnished facts about Blacks and strokes in the U.S. and North Carolina. But it’s not everything we should know.

Strokes tend to occur earlier in life for Blacks than they do for whites, leaving more of a disability. One factor is the prevalence of  high blood pressure in the African American community.

One in three Blacks have hypertension.

Another factor towards stroke many in the African American community have is the prevalence of diabetes, which puts African Americans at greater risk of a stroke. Add to that being overweight.

And as indicated before, smoking doubles the risk of a stroke.

New research from the Dept. of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Hospital suggests that the stress of racism could be another factor in explaining the wide disparity in strokes between Blacks and whites.

The body responds to stress by releasing hormones that trigger a "fight-or-flight" response, raising heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure,” according to Dr. Jennifer Harris, a Cedars-Sinai neurologist. “The response also elevates the level of infection-fighting white blood cells and blood levels of a protein called albumin, among other inflammatory and endocrine biomarkers.

"In a short-term dangerous situation, this could be advantageous," Harris says. "But if the stress on the body is chronic, coming from social stressors, research shows that it can lead to disease."

And now there’s news of a new stroke threat.

Last October, the American Academy of Neurology published a study revealing an increase in the rate of a type of stroke in older people and men, especially African American men, called subarachnoid hemorrhage.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is when bleeding occurs, usually from a burst blood vessel, in the space between the brain and the membrane that covers it. This type of stroke can be caused by a rupture of an aneurysm, high blood pressure or trauma,” according to the study published in the October 26, 2022 edition of Neurology.

These strokes are increasing, and are proving to be deadly, the study found. They comprise 5 to 10% of strokes in older men and women, middle-aged men and disproportionately in Black people.

Again, researchers point to the risk factors commonly associated with African Americans.

So now that the holidays are over, and a new year has begun, most health specialists say it is time to gradually change eating and health habits to head off the prospect of having a debilitating stroke that could paralyze you, and negatively change your life.

If any of the risk factors above pertain to you and your lifestyle, doctors say you should learn about the symptoms of stroke, and how to deal with them fast in order to minimize further damage to your body.

Pay attention to a rapid deterioration in neurological function, numbness or weakness on one side of your body or loss of language. If any of these symptoms occur, call 911 immediately.

Seeing your doctor, and working to control diet, weight, and blood pressure are key, in addition to stress, say researchers.

Remember, the vast majority of strokes are preventable, and knowing the symptoms of stroke and seeking immediate treatment is key.

Take hold of your life, no matter your age, in the new year.