Legacy We Shall Overcome

As this website has shown, African Americans vigorously fought disfranchisement, lynching, and segregation. Localized struggles began to gain national and international attention in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1964, U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act to enforce integration in employment and public facilities. Immediately thereafter, legal advisor to North Carolina law enforcement personnel Dexter Watts penned this memo to explain how police officers and other state authorities should handle specific civil rights-related conflicts in their communities. The memo includes a full text transcript of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In 1971, local civil rights activists in Wilmington invited Ben Chavis to spearhead a boycott of local school integration, a process begun the year before. In February, Chavis and nine others (the Wilmington 10) were arrested and charged with firebombing a grocery store and shooting at police officers. In 1972, all ten were convicted. Two years later, they lost their case in the N.C. Court of Appeals. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., former NAACP director and school integration activist, discusses his arrest, unfair conviction, and pardon in 2013 in the arson trial of Mike’s Grocery Store. His conviction, and that of nine others, sparked an international outcry against the taking of political prisoners on trumped-up charges. Six years later, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the convictions in Chavis v. State, 637 F.2d 213 (4th Cir. 1980) because the State had withheld material evidence and the trial court had denied the defendants their constitutional rights. In the Audio interview, how does the Reverend Ben Chavis Muhammad explain the reasons for the boycott? How does he explain the role of the events of 1898 in the Wilmington 10 case? This poster from the North Carolina Collection at East Carolina University criticizes Jimmy Carter and North Carolina Governor James B. Hunt for their inaction on the Wilmington Ten case. It advertises a protest march at Democratic Party Headquarters in New York City in support of freeing the Wilmington Ten. When questioned about the fate of the Wilmington 10 as political prisoners, how did U.S. President Jimmy Carter (scroll to end of page) respond?