By official order of the city school board, the District's public schools paused yesterday to remember the Wilmington 10. The pause, however, was more apparent than real.
Local political rivals, in a token show of unity, assembled at the Dunbar High School, one of only a few schools actually observing the event yesterday.
On stage were Mayor Marion Barry, constantly checking his wristwatch, school board President Minnie Woodson, siting expressionless, teachers' union. President William Simons, all smiles, and school board member Frank B. Shaffer-Corona, who was introduced as 'a man, a brother, the city's only elected Hispanic."
"Awareness Day," first approved by the school board in 1978, then reapproved for this year last March, notes the case of the 10 North Carolinians convicted in 1972 of fireboming. Supporters of the Wilmington 10-who now include the D.C. school board-contend they were imprisoned for their political beliefs.
"Education is liberaton," Corona told the assembly of 12th graders at Dunbar. "If you want the skills to get a decent job, if you don't want to get pushed out into that police state PG (Prince George's County) with a bunch of trigger-happy cops.
Mayor Barry quickly checked his watch. Simons looked at the ceiling. Woodson shook her head. She would later say of Corona, "Some of his remarks were inflamatory."
Woodson spoke with enthusiasm to the students, offering little clue that she had voted against "Awareness Day" at a school board meeting last year.
"Man's inhumanity to man-we've all heard that," she began. "The social injustices in society-we've all heard that, too," she continued. The Wilmington 10 themselves she scarcely mentioned at all.
Corona said of Woodson, "She has shown some personal growth."
Yesterday's assembly at Dunbar was born in March 1978 when the D.C. Committee Against Racial Oppression asked the school board if its members could enter the city's public schools to "make slide presentations, distribute leaflets and conduct assemblies regarding the Wilmington 10." They never got quite that far.
Instead the board agreed, after much debate on March 15, 1978, to "Wilmington 10 Awarenss Day, compromise observance as intriguing in is making as in its celebration.
Corona responded to the CARO by introducing a resolution supporting the Wilmington 10 and calling for the school board to somehow boycott the state of North Carolina.
"If you are really interested in the Wilmington 10," responded Woodson, "then fight for our civil rights for them with other organizations. Education is our focus and should remain our focus."
School board member Barbara Simmons retorted: "I'm glad you are retired, Minnie, because if you think that education is something that operates as a ship at sea in the night with what's happening in our world, then I'm shocked . . ."
School board member Alaire Rieffel: "I am concerned that we are getting further and further afield from what is properly our role on the Board of Education. Now, I realize that this places me in somewhat of an awkward position since I brought out of my rules committee a couple of months ago a very similar resolution pertaining to the Equal Rights Amendment and I would be hard pressed to distinguish between these good causes. But one has to draw a line somewhere."
School board member Calvin Lockridge: "I had intended to vote against this resolution but now I intend to support it for all the right reasons. I think when we look across this country and look at the small amount of minoritty people that are elected officials, I am not about to restrict minorities utilizing their elected jobs and that forum to lobby in the interest of oppressed people in this country."
Board member Corona: "I maintain that we have an obligation in the education field that extends beyond the classroom. I maintain that in view of the importance of this issue not only locally but nationally and even internationally that we have an obligation to this city . . . to demonstrate support for the Wilmington 10."
Board member John Warren: "Let me say, first of all, that I do not hold with the idea of taking causes into our classrooms as such and based on that, pulling our young people out to participate in activities. I am opposed to that and I want everyone to understand that I am opposed to it because today it can be a majority vote in support of the Wilmington 10 but tomorrow it can be in support of the Ku Kulx Klan."
Still, with that, Warren voted for "Awareness Day." Only Woodson and Rieffel opposed the resolution.
After yesterday's speeches at Dunbar High-where the mayor urged 18-year-olds to register and vote - students were shown a rerun of a "60 Minutes" television program on the Wilmington 10, then sent back to class.
"it was real revealing," said Eric Clark, 18.
"Yeah," said Kevin Dickens, also 18. "We learned a lot about political prisoners." CAPTION: Picture, WILLIAM SIMONS . . . addresses Dunbar students