On February 6, 1971 racial tensions in downtown Wilmington, NC came to a head when several local businesses were set on fire. Firemen responding to the call then came under attack, as shots were fired from the roof of the Gregory Congregational Church, which housed several students and protesters. There were two deaths and several injuries over the next couple of days. Based on evidence that was later called to question in court, ten individuals were convicted and sentenced: Benjamin Chavis, Connie Tindall, Marvin “Chili” Patrick, Wayne Moore, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James “Bun” McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, William “Joe” Wright, Jr, and Ann Shepard.
Coming to be known as the “Wilmington Ten,” their situation garnered international attention when Amnesty International took up their case 1976, believing them to be persecuted for their beliefs rather than proven ties to the events of February 1971. Eventually, the conviction was overturned in 1980 and Benjamin Chavis, who at the time of his arrest was a minister and community organizer, went on to hold various positions of leadership within the African American civil rights community. On Tuesday (6:30pm in the Stone Center Auditorium), Dr. Chavis will offer reflections on the lessons of the Wilmington Ten as part of a commemorative program hosted by UNC’s Institute of African American Research.
For more details on the history of the Wilmington Ten, check out this UNC Libraries blog post. Interested in learning more about keynote speaker Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr? Come browse our reference collection! For example, the items below contain biographical sketches of his life and career:
- Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, vol 2 (C-f)
- African American Lives
- African American National Biography
Or if you’re looking for online resources, check out this biography published by The History Makers. In addition, Dr. Chavis maintains a website, where he has posted an autobiography and you can find him on facebook.