At the helm of The Wilmington Journal, she pushed to screen issues affecting the Black assemblage that had been ignored by the mainstream press.
Jan. 5, 2022, 4:52 p.m. ET
Mary Alice Thatch, a crusading, third-generation paper steadfast successful North Carolina who led the combat to exonerate 10 civilian rights activists wrongly convicted of arson successful the 1970s, died connected Dec. 28 astatine a infirmary successful Durham, N.C. She was 78.
Her girl Johanna Thatch-Briggs confirmed the decease but did not supply a cause.
Ms. Thatch had already had a agelong vocation successful acquisition erstwhile she took implicit the reins of The Wilmington Journal from her father, Thomas C. Jervay. Like him, she saw the Black-owned paper arsenic a captious root of accusation for the city’s Black colonisation and a unit that spoke information to power, achromatic oregon otherwise.
“She was peculiarly committed to making definite that quality that often is not represented successful the mainstream media was ever represented successful The Wilmington Journal,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a civil-rights leader, said successful a telephone interview.
Ms. Thatch’s reporters uncovered corruption and took connected unchecked gentrification, portion The Journal’s editorials pushed for voting rights and acquisition reform. But her top accomplishment came successful the aboriginal 2010s, erstwhile she took up the origin of the alleged Wilmington 10.
A radical of 9 Black men and 1 achromatic woman, the Wilmington 10 were convicted successful 1971 of dynamiting a white-owned market store, past shooting astatine the firefighters who responded. Although the lawsuit against them was flimsy — among different things, 3 cardinal witnesses for the prosecution recanted their accounts — their entreaty failed, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reappraisal it.
The Wilmington 10 became a origin célèbre. Some 10,000 radical joined a protestation march successful 1977 successful Washington, D.C., calling for their release. That aforesaid year, Amnesty International embraced them arsenic a cause, and Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cited them successful an interrogation arsenic an illustration of home governmental prisoners.
A reappraisal by the Department of Justice persuaded Gov. Jim Hunt of North Carolina successful 1978 to commute the remainder of their sentences, and successful 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the convictions. What remained was for the authorities to formally exonerate and compensate them done what, successful North Carolina, is called a pardon of innocence.
At a 2011 gathering successful Washington, Black paper publishers, including Ms. Thatch, listened to 1 of the 10, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, plead for their assistance successful publicizing their case.
A fewer days later, Ms. Thatch called her pb reporter, Cash Michaels, and asked him to oversee a run to uncover the information astir the Wilmington 10, and marque the lawsuit for a ceremonial pardon.
“Being a portion of the Black property and knowing that there’s spot successful the press, knowing that there’s spot successful that pen, I was compelled to combat for justice,” she said successful an interview with her husband’s church.
Over respective months, Mr. Michaels and his squad re-interviewed witnesses and lawyers from the trial, and uncovered damning documents that showed how, for example, the prosecutor, faced with a Black-majority jury, faked unwellness to get a mistrial, past connived to get a white-majority assemblage erstwhile the lawsuit restarted.
Their reporting appeared successful The Journal, and it was reprinted successful Black newspapers astir the country. Other quality outlets, including The New York Times, published editorials successful support.
What had seemed similar past was erstwhile again news, and by the extremity of 2012, unit was gathering connected Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina to contented a pardon of innocence — which she did connected Dec. 31, her last time successful office.
“Without Ms. Thatch, determination would person been a batch little unit connected the politician to bash something,” said Kenneth Janken, a historiographer astatine Duke University and the writer of “The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics successful the 1970s” (2016). “I wouldn’t underestimate the powerfulness of the press.”
Mary Alice Jervay was calved connected July 6, 1943, successful Wilmington. Her household lived successful an flat supra The Journal’s offices, and during the time her mother, Willie (DeVane) Jervay, would assistance with production, arsenic would Mary Alice, earlier she could adjacent walk.
“My daddy utilized to accidental that I started astatine 3 oregon 4 months old, erstwhile I started crawling astir connected the floor,” she said successful a 2013 interview. “I was hired arsenic the janitor to cleanable the level — with my diaper.”
Her grandfather, R.S. Jervay, had founded the paper arsenic The Cape Fear Journal successful 1927. It was Wilmington’s archetypal Black-owned insubstantial since The Daily Record, whose offices, erstwhile located crossed the thoroughfare from wherever The Journal present stands, were burned down successful 1898 erstwhile a achromatic supremacist coup overthrew the biracial City Council and killed 24 Black and achromatic residents.
Despite that legacy, Ms. Thatch did not initially prosecute journalism arsenic a career. She received a bachelor’s grade successful concern acquisition from Elizabeth City State University and a master’s grade successful the aforesaid taxable from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She past worked arsenic a precocious schoolhouse teacher successful North Carolina and Ohio and arsenic a advisor for the North Carolina State government.
She joined John. L. Thatch successful 1970. Along with him and her daughter, she is survived by 2 different daughters, Shawn Thatch and Robin Thatch Johnson; 7 grandchildren; and 7 great-grandchildren.
By the clip Ms. Thatch took implicit from her begetter successful 1996, The Journal had go 1 of the best-known Black newspapers successful the South, wide regarded for its fearlessness successful the look of racist violence. A achromatic supremacist had blown up The Journal’s offices successful 1973, a calamity that her begetter rapidly brushed off.
“She ne'er forgot however adjacent though the paper’s gathering was destroyed, helium inactive made definite a insubstantial came retired that week,” Mr. Michaels said successful an interview. “That’s the benignant of spot and resilience she embodied.”
She was honored arsenic steadfast of the twelvemonth successful 2013 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. And she continued to crusade for the Black assemblage successful Wilmington: Starting successful 2016, she ran a play photograph of Ebonee Spears, a Wilmington miss who had gone missing, connected The Journal’s cover, according to The Charlotte News Observer.
Like astir newspapers, The Wilmington Journal has precocious faced fiscal challenges. A run successful aboriginal 2021 raised $95,000, capable for the insubstantial to support its bureau building. Where it volition spell without its indomitable steadfast astatine the helm remains an unfastened question.