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WRAL has released a new documentary, Ghosts in the Stadium, a historical examination of the unknown past of four iconic football stadiums in the Carolinas.
The film links today’s most cherished Carolina stadiums to the painful history of race relations in the United States.
WRAL Investigative Documentary Producer Cristin Severance and WRAL Sports Anchor Chris Lea set out to uncover who these stadiums were named after, where they were built and what communities they displaced.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Lea about the gridiron findings that went far beyond football.
“I’ve been covering the Carolina Panthers since my time with WRAL. I covered them before I got to WRAL in 2020 at WXII in Winston Salem, too. My team and I would go down and cover the Panthers and so I remember one time, maybe 2017 or 2018, I saw the historical marker that it was the Good Samaritan Hospital there.”
He continued, “And then I saw a little blurb that there was a lynching that happened there, but didn’t know really the details of it. That kind of always stuck out to me in the back of my mind.”
“I didn’t really do anything about it but last year NC State was playing Clemson at Clemson and I was down there for that.”
Lea continued, “I walked past the media entrance and I saw a marker that was there to say this is the land of the unmarked graves of formerly enslaved and convicted laborers.”
“I just thought like, man, that’s crazy.”
After reading Wilmington’s Lie from David Zucchino, Lea says he knew had to act on the information he couldn’t forget.
Supported by an award-winning media team, Lea toured of some of the most packed out stadiums in the South.
Ghosts in the Stadium tells “the story of America”
“A lot of the communities that our ancestors started were taken away, and there’s not a lot that remains from those time periods,” Lea stated.
Noting HBCUs are one of the only lasting mainstays of those communities, Lea says documenting the truth is needed now more than ever.
“I hope that we’re not afraid of history. I hope we learn history so that we can make a better tomorrow for our children.”
“You can look at the story of America with Bank of America Stadium and Carter Finley stadium. It’s the mapping of America.” Lea continued, “A lot of times it’s been building entertainment complexes and highways directly through our communities.”
Arguing only collaboration and unity is possible to achieve not only awareness but change, Lea says this is United States history.
“This is not just African-American history.”
Lea said, “This is American history. This is white people’s history, too.”
“It’s not about making anybody feel bad about what happened that they had nothing to do with. This is really all about learning history, understanding each other’s plight and working towards true equity to build a better tomorrow for everybody.”
“Let’s at least give our ancestors the acknowledgement that they have a true American story, and we acknowledge that sacrifice and their life.”
A Black man was lynched where the Panthers play. His name was Joe.
Lea says 19-year-old Joseph “Joe” McNeely will be honored on the same grounds he was once murdered.
In 1913, McNeely was dragged from his bed at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was soon riddled with bullets by a White mob in what is now Bank of America Stadium.
“Some say that a group as large as 70, another version says 30 masked men gathered around 1:00 in the morning and stormed the hospital,” Historian Willie Griffin of the Levine Museum of the New South told WBTV.
”Drug him out of his hospital bed into the front of the hospital and they riddled him with bullets and they just disappeared.”
The Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Remembrance Project are scheduled to collaboratively honor him in the coming years in the stadium.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Remembrance Project was created to join Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) nationwide movement to expose and concretize the horrors of white supremacy and the legacy of racial terrorism.
This is the same land where an antebellumed Jerry Richardson once asked Cam Newton, “Did you get crazy after the draft and go out and get any tattoos or piercings?” according to an article in the Charlotte Observer. “Do I have to check you for anything?”
Lea says though they uncovered many truths, so many more exist in plain sight.
“We focused on stadiums, but there’s a lot of different public lands that are now either universities, stadiums, parks, and highways that were once our communities.” Lea furthered, “These places were taken from the poor, powerless, and a lot of times that the poor and powerless were Black people.”
“We went to Davidson College to talk to Professor Dan Aldridge.” Lea said, “He told us about burial grounds for enslaved people at their school. And then nearby at Lake Norman there was once a Black settlement before was made into a lake.”
“The more we sweep things under the rug, the more dirt is gonna come out later.”
Lea affirmed, “We have to figure it out together. It’s going to take collaboration, it’s not going to be just us. It’s like a team, it has to be everybody in on this.”
How to watch Ghosts in the Stadium
Watch on television
The latest WRAL Doc, Ghosts in the Stadium, debuted on WRAL Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
The documentary will rebroadcast on WILM-TV in Wilmington on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.
It will also rebroadcast on WRAZ FOX50 on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Watch on streaming
Ghosts in the Stadium will be available for on-demand viewing on WRALDocumentary.com, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and Samsung Smart TV.