LUMBERTON — The Carolina Civic Center Historic Theater, in partnership with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, will screen the documentary film “Pardons of Innocence: The Wilmington Ten,” at 7 p.m. today.
The two-hour film will be followed by a panel discussion that will include the Rev. Benjamin Chavis Jr., an original member of the Wilmington Ten and former national president of the NAACP. Filmmaker Cash Michaels also will be present.
Coinciding with Black History Month, this event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Theatre staff said early this week the event is a sellout. Call 910-738-4339 to learn if tickets are available. The theater’s doors will open at 6 p.m.
The film is a production of CashWorks and is written, produced and narrated by Cash Michaels, a staff writer for The Wilmington Journal. It was released in 2014 and won a second place in the North Carolina Black Film Festival.
Carolina Civic Center Director Richard Sceiford thanked Doug McMillan Jr., of Lumberton, for his work in bringing the event to Lumberton. McMillan is excited about the showing, which, he said, is bringing in an audience from across Robeson County and the region.
“The profound and in-depth contents of the documentary is a must-see for all,” McMillan said. “The struggle for justice must continue.”
Sceiford is excited about the event.
“This is a partnership between the Publishers Association and the Civic Center that started when Doug McMillan contacted us,” Sceiford said. “I have roots in Wilmington, so I am familiar with the story of the Wilmington Ten.
“This is a story of the civil rights struggle that is not always included in the history textbooks. This is a story about Southeastern North Carolina, and worthy of discussion during Black History Month.”
The documentary recounts the history surrounding the troubled desegregation of New Hanover County public schools during the late 1960s through 1972. Ultimately the struggle evolved into the false prosecution of eight black male students, a white female community organizer, and fiery national civil rights activist, Benjamin Chavis, for arson and conspiracy. Chavis received a 35-year sentence.
Against the backdrop of school desegregation and the Wilmington 1898 race massacre, the documentary also traces how the National Newspaper Publishers Association, led initially by Wilmington Journal publisher Thomas C. Jervay Sr., and more than 40 years later by his daughter, Publisher/Editor Mary Alice Jervay Thatch and the NNPA, ultimately achieved the official exoneration of the Wilmington Ten.
Special appearances in the film include the Rev. Chavis; Joseph McNeil, a member of the Greensboro Four, who integrated Greensboro’s F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in 1960; the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; and former Gov. Beverly Perdue, who ultimately pardoned the Wilmington Ten in 2012.
An Oxford, Rev. Chavis rose to prominence in the Civil Rights movement as an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After his release from prison in 1979, Chavis served a vice president of the National Council of Churches until his election to the presidency of the NAACP.
As the NAACP’s leader, Chavis led the Million Man March. He was elected president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 2014.
The documentary also has been released on DVD with an academic guide for public schools for grades nine through 12, colleges and universities, and the general public. Filmmaker Michaels also produced the 2010 film “Obama in NC: The Path to History” and is currently working on a film about white civil rights attorney Allan McSurley.
The NNPA, also known as The Black Press of America, is a 74-year-old federation of more than 200 black community newspapers across the United States. In 2011, led by The Wilmington Journal, the NNPA and NNPA Foundation, led by Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, adopted the pardons of the Wilmington Ten as a project.
Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]