The editor of the Wilmington Journal has died, a family newspaper

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Mary Alice Jervay Thatch was the third generation editor of the Wilmington Journal, North Carolina’s oldest black newspaper. Thatch died on December 28, 2021.

Courtesy of the NC Black Newspaper Publishers Association

Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, editor and third-generation editor of North Carolina’s oldest black newspaper and key organizer of efforts to secure pardons for Wilmington 10, died Tuesday, her family said.

She was 78 years old.

Thatch had headed the Wilmington Journal since 1996 and was president of the NC Black Publishers Association at the time of her death. In 2015, Thatch said, “A family journal is really part of the community”,

Under Thatch’s direction, the Journal held civic leaders accountable while celebrating the accomplishments of Wilmington’s black community. Thatch was known to hold those around her to high standards and carried decades of Wilmington history.

“Mary Alice was a staunch defender of the people. It has touched more lives than people will ever realize, ”said Deborah Dicks Maxwell, longtime president of the New Hanover County NAACP, who is now president of the NC NAACP.

“She didn’t announce what she did,” Maxwell continued. “It wasn’t just her voice through this journal, it was her voice in the community, her voice for mentoring people like me and countless others.”

The Journal provided black residents of the city with key political information, Maxwell said, including making endorsements in local elections. In an obituary, Thatch’s family reiterated their willingness to defend the rights of voters and demand that political parties also buy black media ads.

RS Jervay, Thatch’s grandfather, started the Wilmington Journal in 1927, originally calling it The Cape Fear Journal. Almost three decades earlier, the Daily Record, another black newspaper in Wilmington, had been targeted in the Wilmington massacre of 1898.

Thomas C. Jervay Sr., Thatch’s father, led the newspaper through the civil rights movement, including an arson attack on the newspaper’s offices in 1973. This period included Wilmington 10’s wrongful convictions of nine black men and a white woman in connection with the 1971 Wilmington grocery store firebomb.

Thatch continued the newspaper’s support for Wilmington 10 when she became editor in 1996. A federal appeals court overturned Wilmington 10’s convictions in 1980, but the group was never pardoned.

In editorials, Thatch called on North Carolina rulers to clear the names of the Wilmington 10. Thatch was an organizer of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence project in 2011 and successfully urged the National Newspaper Publishers Association to join the effort.

Over 150,000 people signed a petition calling on the government of the day. Beverly Perdue forgave the group. Perdue granted the long-awaited pardons in 2012, just before stepping down.

“Mary Alice Thatch was an editor, journalist and freedom activist. The Black Press of America extends its deepest condolences to the family of Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, ”Dr. Ben Chavis, a member of Wilmington 10 who is now president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told the NNPA Newswire.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association named Thatch Editor of the Year in 2013.

“She was a force,” said Maxwell.

Linda Pearce Thomas, a Wilmington community leader who is the retired CEO of Elderhaus adult daycare, recalled Thatch’s approval played a central role in the local elections.

“She fought against everything that was bad in this city, and there was a lot of it,” Thomas said. “And she fought almost on her own to make a difference, to get black people elected so that they then had the power to make change.”

Thatch pledged to print what she believed “without fear or favor,” Thomas recalls, and always lived up to it even if it meant losing business by taking a stand or supporting a given candidate.

“If you were ever on the safe side of her, there was no more loyal friend in the world. If you were on the wrong side of her, you had to climb a mountain to get back, ”Thomas said.

The Journal also served a vital community function, listing the accomplishments of the city’s black residents. And Thatch made the newspaper available for free in many black churches in the area every week.

When Brandon “Bigg B” Hickman was named the local Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year, his godmother found out when she read the subject in the Journal.

Hickman, who is now a program director at Wilmington’s Coast 97.3, got his first job as a newspaper delivery man for the Journal. He said Thatch told him he had to sign up for the job.

“Once you’ve started you can’t stop,” Hickman recalls telling him Thatch.

Thatch’s own commitment can be found in the pages of the Journal, not only during his work on the Wilmington 10, but also in recent years. Since 2016, for example, the Journal has featured a photo of Ebonee Spears on the front page of every weekly issue. The spears disappeared in 2016 after attempting to make a phone call from the Wilmington Police Department lobby.

“She meant a lot to Wilmington,” Hickman said of Thatch. “She continued her father’s legacy by doing some of the most direct editorial on things that were happening in our community, which her father did.”

Cash Michaels, a longtime writer for the Journal, recalled Thatch in a Facebook post. Thatch “never made a mess,” Michaels wrote, and is committed to her community.

“She believed in the power of the black press. I thought we should tell our own stories. Believed (in) the empowerment of blacks in all areas. Mary Alice Thatch was a dynamic force of nature, ”Michaels wrote.

Like many newspapers, the Journal had to contend with financial difficulties.

The Wilmington StarNews reported earlier this year, a GoFundMe campaign and telethon raised more than $ 95,000 to help keep the South Seventh Street newspaper’s longtime headquarters in the family.

“The Journal is a must-see,” Hickman said. “It is North Carolina’s oldest African-American newspaper and losing its fearless leader is a great success, but I think the family will continue this legacy as they did with her father’s legacy.”

Thatch received her bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University and her master’s degree from UNC-Greensboro. Before leading the Wilmington Journal, she worked as a teacher.

Thatch is survived by her husband, the Reverend John L. Thatch, and three daughters, Robin Thatch Johnson, Shawn Thatch and Johanna Thatch-Briggs.

Adam Wagner covers climate change and other environmental issues in North Carolina. Her work is produced with financial support from 1Earth Fund, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism scholarship program. Wagner’s previous work at The News & Observer included covering the COVID-19 vaccine deployment and North Carolina’s recovery from recent hurricanes. He previously worked for the Wilmington StarNews.

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