Finding Aid of Judge George M. Fountain's Wilmington Ten Case File, 1971-1978, PC.1985


Finding Aid of Judge George M. Fountain's Wilmington Ten Case File, 1971-1978, PC.1985


Judge George M. Fountain (1914-1999), was a native of Tarboro, Edgecombe County. In 1962 Judge Fountain was elected Resident Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, encompassing Edgecombe, Nash, and Wilson counties. It was in that capacity that Judge Fountain was assigned to to hold in May of 1977 a post-conviction hearing for a retrial of the State vs. Chavis et al. The collection includes materials related to the case of State of North Carolina vs. Benjamin F. Chavis et al, dating 1971-1978, such as briefs, transcripts, petitions, judgments, notes and related legal materials created or received by Judge Fountain in discharging his duty to hear the defendants' request for a retrial of the Wilmington Ten case.

Descriptive Summary

Judge George M. Fountain's Wilmington Ten Case File
Call Number
Fountain, George M., 1914-1997.
1.00 boxes, 0.50 cubic feet
State Archives of North Carolina

Restrictions on Access & Use

Access Restrictions

Available for research.

Use Restrictions

Copyright is retained by the authors of these materials, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law (Title 17 US Code). Individual researchers are responsible for using these materials in conformance with copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], PC.1985, Judge George M. Fountain's Wilmington Ten Case File, 1971-1978, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, N.C., USA.

Arrangement Note

No apparent original order as received. Folders arranged chronologically and by subject.

Biographical/Historical Note

A native of Tarboro, Edgecombe County, George Motz Fountain, Jr., was born in 1914 to George M. and Mary Royal Motz Fountain. After attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1932-1934) and earning a law degree from Cumblerland University Law School in Tennessee in 1935, Fountain began the practice of law in Tarboro with his father, until the latter's death in 1940. Active in the political, civic, and religious life of the area, Fountain held such offices as president of the Edgecombe County Young Democratic Club, town mayor(1941), and member of the Board of Trustees of the First Baptist Church.During World War II, Fountain served in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945, then resumed his practice of law in Tarboro. In 1945 he began service as the solicitor of the Second Solicitorial District, including Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson, Martin, and Washington counties, and in 1953 was appointed to a special judgeship of the Superior Court. During that era judges were rotated, moving from district to district on a regular six-month basis. In 1962 Judge Fountain was elected Resident Judge of the Seventh Judicial District, encompassing Edgecombe, Nash, and Wilson counties. He served in that capacity until retirement in 1982, and became for several years thereafter an emergency judge assigned by the North Carolina Supreme Court to various venues. Judge Fountain had the distinction of being the first Superior Court judge to serve in all 100 counties of the state. He died in Tarboro on April 27, 1997, at the age of 82.The Wilmington Ten were tried for fire bombing a grocery in Wilmington and for conspiring to assault the firemen and police who responded to the fire. The incident occurred during a period of protests against racial discrimination and segregation.Sources: Obituary from the , April 28, 1997, and several news articles from the vertical file on Judge Fountain in the Edgecombe County Memorial Library, Tarboro. Articles were in the (Tarboro), October 31, 1953; November 7, 1953; June 3, 1985.

Historical Note on Wilmington

The Wilmington Ten case was set in a backdrop of severe racial discord in that city. There were unresolved tensions going far beyond clashes during court-ordered school integration efforts of the past decade. The most prominent of the Ten was Ben Chavis (Benjamin Franklin Chavis), a native of Oxford, N.C. At twenty-four years of age, Chavis was a recently ordained minister, sent to Wilminton at the beginning of February 1971 to serve as a community organizer under the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. Growing violence that week had claimed two lives. Tensions were exacerbated by white supremacists firing shots from cars roaming black neighborhoods. On February 6 Chavis and his followers barricaded themselves in the basement of the Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ. As the day wore on, highway patrol units and then National Guardsmen surrounded the church. The precipitating event was the burning during the night of a nearby grocery store. The arson was alleged to have been committed by people from Chavis's group, and aided by snipers firing on firefighters and policemen called to the scene.Chavis, in a 1972 trial held in Burgaw, Pender County, adjacent to New Hanover County, was given a thirty-five year sentence and others in the group, almost the equivalent. The state court of appeals in 1974 upheld the earlier verdicts. In 1976 the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene and the convicted Ten began serving their prison sentences. In 1977 Judge George A. Fountain was assigned to preside at a full post-conviction hearing. Judge Fountain ruled that on the basis of evidence submitted he found no basis for believing that Allan Hall and others including Jerome Mitchell and Junious Mitchell had committed perjury for the State. A result of the trial was that Judge Fountain rejected the Wilmington Ten's request for a new trial.During the 1970s the trial and ongoing appeals and hearings [See chronology below] stimulated strong and varied opinions in North Carolina and in the country and attracted international attention. Numerous prominent supporters of the Wilmington Ten, including Amnesty International, characterized the Wilmington Ten as political prisoners of the state. Others, including conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr., challenged the Ten's apparent violent tactics, questioning what had actually transpired in early February of 1971. In 1980 a Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in meeting in Richmond overturned the convictions on grounds defendants' attorneys had not had access to a pretrial statement containing changes in testimony by prosecution witness, Allen Hall.Various interpretations and accounts of events include the following sample: Chapter 10, in Grimsley, Wayne. . Jefferson, N.C. and London: McFarland and Co., Inc., 2003; , Raleigh, January 23, 1978, in . Vol. I, 1977-1981. Edited by Memory F. Mitchell. Raleigh: Div. of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources, 1982; Godwin, John L. . Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, c2000; Tyson, Timothy. . New York: Crown Publishers, 2004 (pages 256-275); and Thomas, Larry Reni. . Drewryville, Va.: Khalifah and Associates, c1993.

Contents of the Collection

1. Judge George M. Fountain's Wilmington Ten Case File,1971-1978


File consists of materials, chiefly photocopies, related to the case of State of North Carolina vs. Benjamin F. Chavis et al, dating 1971-1978. Documents includes briefs, transcripts, petitions, judgments, and related legal materials, notes and some correspondence, with most created or received by Judge Fountain.

Allen Hall Material, undated and, 1971-1977
Box Folder PC.1985.1 1
Jerome Mitchell Material: Court Orders and Indictments,1971-1974
Folder 2
Jerome Mitchell Letters, Petitions from Prison,1974-1977
Folder 3
Examinations/testamonies of Jerome Mitchell: Notes recorded on Legal Pad, Presumbably by George M. Fountain
Folder 4
Grand Jury Investigation Court Transcript,8 March 1977
Folder 5
James E. Ferguson, II, Correspondence and Enclosures (motions) to Judge Fountain., 26 Apr-23 Aug 1977
Folder 6
George M. Fountain to James E. Ferguson, II, Correspondence,27 Apr and 7 June 1977
Folder 7
Correspondence from Office of Attorney General to Judge Fountain., May-June 1977
Folder 8
Correspondence and Enclosures: R. Michael Jones to Judge Fountain,1977-1978
Folder 9
Resolutions in Support of Justice for the Wilmington 10, City Council of Berkley, California,11 Apr 1978
Folder 10

Subject Headings

  • Chavis, Ben, 1948-
  • Black power--United States--History--20th century.
  • Appellate procedure
  • Judicial process
  • Judges
  • Superior courts.
  • Appellate procedure
  • Judicial process
  • Judges
  • Superior Courts
  • Race Discrimination
  • Race relations
  • North Carolina--Politics and government--20th century
  • Pender County (N.C.)
  • New Hanover County (N.C.)
  • Wilmington (N.C.)--Race relations.
  • Wilmington (N.C.)
  • Fountain, George M., 1914-1997.
  • Acquisitions Information

    Received December 15, 2008 as a transfer from Trial Court Administrator, General Court of Justice, District Court Division, 7BC, Tarboro, Edgecombe County, NC.

    Processing Information

  • Processed by Fran Tracy-Walls, 2011 and 2012
  • Encoded by Fran Tracy-Walls, 2012