Threa Almontaser | Staff Writer
The Africana Studies department and the African American Cultural Center hosted a screening of “Pardons of Innocence: The Wilmington Ten,” on Feb. 10 in Witherspoon Student Cinema.
This screening was a part of many events that will be taking place during this 25th anniversary of the African American Cultural Center.
The event featured filmmaker Cash Michaels, the award-winning editor, chief reporter, photographer and columnist for The Carolinian newspaper, the twice-weekly African-American publication covering Raleigh and the Triangle for more than 70 years. Michaels was also a staff writer and columnist for the Wilmington Journal from 1999 to 2007.
It’s no surprise that he became intimately involved with this specific case having spent so much time in Wilmington.
“We thought it was an excellent opportunity to highlight one of our local professionals and shed light on a major series of events in the history of African Americans in North Carolina that spanned an entire century,” said Dr. Craig Brookins, a professor in Psychology and Africana Studies here.
The film tells the story of a series of events that led to the false arrest, conviction and eventual exoneration of nine Black men and one White woman in Wilmington North Carolina in the early 70’s. The legal case lasted almost 40 years and became an international rallying cry for human rights abuses that were taking place in the United States of America.
The film ends with the 2012 “Pardons of Innocence” issued by Governor Beverly Perdue. It brings to light how big of a role the Black press has played in North Carolina and around the nation in bringing light to stories that affect African American communities that are usually ignored or unreported by mass market media.
“Our own justice system doesn’t serve all of our citizens fairly and it’s important to remain critical of the system – if we don’t ask questions and fight back, injustice thrives,” said Caretta Davis, a senior studying English.
Dr. Brookins believes the beauty of this film comes from it being told from the perspective of the victims and those fighting their cause, as well as providing brilliant historical context of the long history of persecution of African Americans in Wilmington. That history is stretched back to 1898 to the “race riot” and coup-de-tat in which White citizens overthrew a democratically elected city government in which Blacks were serving.
Although Dr. Brookins has lived in North Carolina for a long time, he says there is still so much he continues to learn about the state. He’s found that many students and others who grew up in the state are unfamiliar with a lot of significant parts of the North Carolina story.
“Among the educational goals of Africana Studies is to shed light on the past in ways that help us understand the present and move more purposefully into the future,” he said.
Dr. Brookins and his colleagues hope students in particular leave with an appreciation for how current events are usually familiarly linked to past events that deal with ideas pertaining to economics, politics and much more.
“What we see with #BlackLivesMatter is both a reflection of previous social movements as well as a continued struggle with yet-to-be-resolved societal problems related to race and place,” said Dr. Brookins.
He also wants students to identify the influence in the shared labors of people and communities across all demographic sectors of society, which are frequently started by college-aged students and can absolutely influence the formation of a more humanitarian society.
“[The film] reminds me that the fight for justice and equality continues today. It’s our responsibility to recognize injustice and to remain committed toward achieving justice,” said Davis.