NEWARK, NJ - One of the Wilmington 10 who fought to desegregate schools in North Carolina will be the keynote speaker on Tuesday, Jan. 15, at Essex County College’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.  

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., who was falsely accused and convicted in connection with a 1970s firebombing of a grocery store in Wilmington N.C., will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. The program will be presented in the Mary Burch Theater by the college’s Africana Institute in association with the Student Life & Activities Office.  

The store that was firebombed in 1971 came amid black high-school students protesting racial discrimination in Wilmington, N.C. Chavis, who was in his 20s at the time, was found guilty of arson and was considered a political prisoner by Amnesty International.

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 A federal appeals court later over overturned the convictions of Chavis and nine others because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence and the trial judge limited cross-examination of witnesses who received special treatment for their testimony.  

“This is significant that we have as our keynote speaker someone of the stature of Dr. Chavis who has been in the forefront of the Civil Right movement in the United States,” said Dr. Akil Khalfani, the director of the Africana Institute at Essex County College. “Dr. Chavis will bring to us his reflections not only on the Civil Rights movement but his thoughts on 400 years since African slaves were brought to this country.”

Chavis went on to earn a master’s degree in Divinity from Duke University and a doctorate from Howard University. He is CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and has served in NAACP leadership roles.  

The Essex County College Choir and the Arts High School Gospel Choir will also perform during the program.

The event is free and open to the public and will run until about 1 p.m.

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