The Wilmington Ten

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

By Kenneth Robert Janken

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6623-5
    Published: August 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2483-9
    Published: January 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2484-6
    Published: October 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4015-8
    Published: October 2015

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Awards & distinctions

Clarendon Award, Lower Cape Fear Historical Society

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.
For more information about Kenneth Robert Janken, visit the Author Page.


“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.”--Choice

“Simultaneously thorough and concise, deeply researched, and insightful, The Wilmington Ten deserves a wide readership.”--Journal of Southern History

“Provides fresh insight into hard truths about procedures used by the state to suppress and repress black challenges to the racial status quo. . . . A sincere exploration of black politics in the 1970s, one that takes seriously black power activists and ideologies.”--American Historical Review