Mary Alice Thatch, Publisher Who Won Pardon for the Wilmington 10, Dies at 78

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“My daddy used to say that I started at 3 or 4 months old, when I started crawling around on the floor,” she said in a 2013 interview. “I was hired as the janitor to clean the floor — with my diaper.”

Her grandfather, R.S. Jervay, had founded the newspaper as The Cape Fear Journal in 1927. It was Wilmington’s first Black-owned paper since The Daily Record, whose offices, once located across the street from where The Journal now stands, were burned down in 1898 when a white supremacist coup overthrew the biracial City Council and killed 24 Black and white residents.

Despite that legacy, Ms. Thatch did not initially pursue journalism as a career. She received a bachelor’s degree in business education from Elizabeth City State University and a master’s degree in the same subject from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She then worked as a high school teacher in North Carolina and Ohio and as a consultant for the North Carolina State government.

She married John. L. Thatch in 1970. Along with him and her daughter, she is survived by two other daughters, Shawn Thatch and Robin Thatch Johnson; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

By the time Ms. Thatch took over from her father in 1996, The Journal had become one of the best-known Black newspapers in the South, widely regarded for its fearlessness in the face of racist violence. A white supremacist had blown up The Journal’s offices in 1973, a calamity that her father quickly brushed off.

“She never forgot how even though the paper’s building was destroyed, he still made sure a paper came out that week,” Mr. Michaels said in an interview. “That’s the sort of strength and resilience she embodied.”

She was honored as publisher of the year in 2013 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. And she continued to crusade for the Black community in Wilmington: Starting in 2016, she ran a weekly photo of Ebonee Spears, a Wilmington girl who had gone missing, on The Journal’s cover, according to The Charlotte News Observer.

Like most newspapers, The Wilmington Journal has recently faced financial challenges. A campaign in early 2021 raised $95,000, enough for the paper to keep its office building. Where it will go without its indomitable publisher at the helm remains an open question.



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