On a quiet, tree-lined block of South 7th Street in downtown Wilmington, a two-story house with white clapboard siding looks a little worse for wear. Though its facade is in good shape, the 123-year-old building’s roof has sagged and collapsed. 

A note by the front door, alerting visitors to its mask policy, serves as a timestamp to its last days in operation. 

The building remains a vital landmark of resiliency: the offices of The Wilmington Journal.

For nearly a century, the weekly newspaper served Wilmington’s Black community, but in recent years, it’s fallen on hard times. 

A death in the family left a lien on The Journal’s building, and while a fundraiser in early 2021 helped prevent foreclosure, another death—this time, longtime editor Mary Alice Jervay Thatch—left a leadership vacuum. Thatch, the third generation to run the paper, was known for her dogged determination in covering the Wilmington 10 and helping to seek their exoneration. When she died in December 2021, the printing presses stopped.

For The Assembly, Benjamin Schachtman details The Journal‘s resilient path.

Press On

One of the state’s oldest Black newspapers is clinging to life in Wilmington. It hasn’t printed regularly in two years, but some are optimistic for its revival.

The dormant offices of The Wilmington Journal, one of the state’s oldest Black newspapers. (Photo by Johanna F. Still)

Catch up on an audio conversation on last week’s edition of The Dive here, or contact us with story ideas and feedback at wilmington@theassemblync.com.

A Blue Sweep

Democratic candidates swept the Wilmington city council election, part of a blue wave seen in other races across the state. 

State Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton captured the sentiment on election night with a meme: Elmo, arms raised, flames blazing. 

That reveling-in-the-chaos take gets at how Tuesday’s results were received in a purple state where Republicans have been strengthening their grip in recent years.

Municipal elections are supposed to be non-partisan. Voters can’t see which party candidates belong to when bubbling in their ballots. But the parties certainly broadcast their picks, and Democratic candidates beat expectations in Wilmington. Final results won’t be certified until next week, but preliminary results show incumbent Republican Neil Anderson landing in fourth place, one spot shy of securing the last seat on council.  Democratic incumbent Kevin Spears secured that last seat by a healthy margin. 

I’m generally skeptical of how much attention people pay to the candidates and their positions. Most voters are busy and often overloaded with information. Hell, it’s my job to keep up with this stuff and it’s still hard to follow. I’ve often given more credence to the theory that candidates who land alphabetically at the top of the ballot, or with recognizable or catchy names, are more likely to win.

But this year, even John Lennon couldn’t secure a council seat, despite out-raising the first-place finisher, newcomer David Joyner, four to one as of last month. Lennon had the backing of the most influential real estate professionals in town, which around here is usually a sure bet. 

There’ll be plenty to be said about what the blue wave means in Wilmington and whether that energy can last through next year when higher-stakes statewide races are in play.

–Johanna F. Still

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Past, Present

Lucy McCauley, a Wilmington woman who is a descendant of one of the leaders of the 1898 coup d’état, wrote for us this week about her experience connecting with families who were on the other side of the massacre 125 years ago. The following is an excerpt from her essay.

One raw November evening in 2021, I sat down for pizza at a friend’s table in Wilmington. This was no ordinary dinner. I’d met the other guests—Kieran, Priscilla, and Leila Haile—only briefly before. We’d all come to town to attend events marking the anniversary of the 1898 massacre and coup d’etat.

There was no denying the differences between us. I’m white, beyond middle-aged; the Hailes are millennial people of color. Yet we are deeply connected by the legacy of a single day in November more than a century ago.

I was nervous. Would the Hailes point an accusing finger? Would they see my ancestor in me?

Just before the massacre, their great-great-grandfather Alexander Manly had barely escaped lynching by fleeing town. His purported crime? As founder of The Daily Record, a Black daily newspaper, he’d dared to write an editorial refuting widespread propaganda that portrayed Black men as sexual predators.

My Ancestors Won’t Have the Final Word

While I don’t feel responsible for my ancestor’s role in the Wilmington massacre, I do feel compelled to help repair what he helped destroy.

Around the Region

The Last Dance: New Hanover County officials quickly and quietly approved an eminent domain claim on Cheetah Premier Gentlemen’s Club on Monday. As WHQR reports, the strip club owner wasn’t given a heads-up.

Cause(y) and Effect: A recent News & Observer investigation recently revealed N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey’s string of peculiar decisions, including moving a regional office from Wilmington to Whiteville and splitting Brunswick County into two districts so two of his directors could live on Oak Island.

Really Recycling: In a profile for Greater Wilmington Business Journal, New Hanover County recycling director Joe Suleyman said a big part of his job is convincing the public the county really recycles. “Whoever is alive now, their kids are going to face a trash crisis,” he said. 

Around the State

Fancy Feat

Anson Dorrance is the most successful women’s college soccer coach in history. His daughter is an acclaimed tap dancer.

The Land War in Brunswick

How an annexation-hungry town in the state’s fastest-growing county drew the ire of its most powerful lawmaker.

The Demon Deacons’ Dilemma

Wake Forest, the smallest school in the Power Five, is fighting to stay relevant as conference consolidation favors larger schools.

Judge and Jury

A Dare County judge charged and summarily convicted an assistant capital defender of contempt during a death-penalty trial.

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