A new look at the injustice visited on a group of African-American high school students engaged in the battle for desegregation in the public schools.
Janken (African-American and Diaspora Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; Walter White: Mr. NAACP, 2003, etc.) revisits this painful episode in the civil rights struggle of early 1971, when the boycott by black high school students of two newly desegregated Wilmington, North Carolina, high schools turned violent and provoked a white-supremacy response and precipitous police roundup. The initial protests were led by a student “boycott committee” radicalized by the ongoing culture and politics of Black Power and frustrated by the discrimination they endured continually in their formerly all-white schools: racist taunts by other students, sidelining of black students for government and sports teams, uneven disciplinary action meted out by administration, and the need for black educators and counselors, among other grievances. The students sought help from black church leaders in town, especially the white minister of Gregory Congregational Church and the assistant he recruited for help, Ben Chavis, a young civil rights organizer, who would become the lightning rod for focusing and leading the student group’s demands. After the conflict spread from the schoolyard to the town, resulting in the burning of several white establishments and violent clashes with the homegrown vigilante Rights of White People, the boycott leaders, including Chavis, were charged in a frame-up and jailed. The story of the Wilmington Ten really begins here, as Janken follows systematically the problematic witness who perjured himself at the trial, coached by the prosecution, and the faulty jury selection process. Moreover, the alliances the group garnered from supportive civil rights groups helped ignite a national outrage about the cause and helped join the larger discussion of racial equality smoldering across the country.
A passionate, intensely engaging portrait of the group’s initial mission, as well as the terrible personal lifelong toll the struggle took.