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Mary Alice Thatch: From ‘janitor’ to Publisher of the Year

George Curry | 7/15/2013, 9:51 a.m.
If the Wilmington Journal ever holds a contest to determine who began work there at the youngest age, Mary Alice ...
Mary Alice Thatch, named Publisher of the Year by NNPA FranFarrer

Not yet.

The Wilmington 10 Pardons of Innocence Project was officially launched in Washington, D.C., at the 2011 Black Press Week luncheon at the National Press Club.

When Ben Chavis, the leader of the Wilmington 10, was asked to describe his lowest point in prison, after some hesitation, he said, “I was warned not to go into the shower. I couldn’t take a bath for eight months.”

With North Carolina-based Cash Michaels serving as the lead writer on dozens of stories that were sent out to NNPA newspapers through its news service – riveting disclosures that revealed that the prosecutor’s hand-written notes showed that he selected “Uncle Tom-types” and KKK sympathizers for the jury – a national movement grew to include a national petition drive by MoveOn.org and the NAACP national office.

The two-year campaign resulted in outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue issuing pardons of innocence on Dec. 31, 2012, to the Wilmington 10. Although a federal appeals court had overturned their convictions in 1980 because the prosecutor had, among other things, failed to turn over evidence that was favorable to the defense, the Wilmington 10 were released from jail, but they were not fully exonerated. Not until the governor pardoned them.

“The box of papers was the real key to getting the pardons,” Thatch said. “What was contained in [prosecutor James] ‘Jay’ Stroud’s papers was what convinced Gov. Perdue that this was truly, as she put it, ‘naked racism.’ When the announcement was made, I hollered all over the house,” she said. “This was the biggest accomplishment that we have ever made in North Carolina.”

Thatch said it was a combination of Wilmington 10 leader Ben Chavis’ optimism, the commitment of two original attorneys – James E. Ferguson II and Irving, who never abandoned the case – the diligence of Cash Michaels and Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, NNPA publishers who carried the stories, and others that made the pardons a reality.

In large part, because of the Wilmington 10 campaign that she led, Thatch was elected NNPA 2012 Publisher of the Year.

“I was surprised,” she said, “It required a great deal of hard work and tenacity, and I feel very honored and appreciative to NNPA for the recognition.”