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256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 2 maps, notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-1-4696-2483-9
Published: January 2016

The Wilmington Ten

Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s

By Kenneth Robert Janken

In February 1971, racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, culminated in four days of violence and skirmishes between white vigilantes and black residents. The turmoil resulted in two deaths, six injuries, more than $500,000 in damage, and the firebombing of a white-owned store, before the National Guard restored uneasy peace. Despite glaring irregularities in the subsequent trial, ten young persons were convicted of arson and conspiracy and then sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. They became known internationally as the Wilmington Ten. A powerful movement arose within North Carolina and beyond to demand their freedom, and after several witnesses admitted to perjury, a federal appeals court, also citing prosecutorial misconduct, overturned the convictions in 1980.

Kenneth Janken narrates the dramatic story of the Ten, connecting their story to a larger arc of Black Power and the transformation of post-Civil Rights era political organizing. Grounded in extensive interviews, newly declassified government documents, and archival research, this book thoroughly examines the 1971 events and the subsequent movement for justice that strongly influenced the wider African American freedom struggle.

About the Author

Kenneth Janken is professor of African American and Diaspora studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and director of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South.


“The subject matter is fascinating. . . [and] illustrative of how far Americans still have to go in bridging our society’s divisions.”—Publishers Weekly

“Janken's highly recommended history of student racial protest provides a historical perspective on the current struggle for diversity within academia and the black lives matter movement.”
--Library Journal

“A passionate, intensely engaging portrait of the group's initial mission, as well as the terrible personal lifelong toll the struggle took.”
--Kirkus Reviews

“This first book-length scholarly treatment of the event is meticulously researched and compelling in its analysis. . . . Highly recommended.”

“Explodes what little is left of [the] cut-and-paste version of the [civil rights] movement, reminding readers that many different movements were operating over a period of decades. . . . An important, approachable study.”
--North Carolina Historical Review

“Kenneth Janken's Wilmington Ten is a fast-paced, deeply researched investigation of an atrocity whose ordinary black and white victims might otherwise have remained all but forgotten and whose large civil rights significance holds lessons to be taught ever and again.”
--David Levering Lewis, Julius Silver University Professor, Emeritus, New York University, and author of books on Martin Luther King Jr., and W. E. B. Du Bois

© 2016 The University of North Carolina Press
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