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Support for Wilmington 10 builds
Political and social activists push for pardon
 
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012 12:47 pm
by Cash Michaels, Wilmington Journal

RALEIGH – After only a week, significant local and national support to obtain pardons of innocence for the Wilmington 10 is already coming in.

But organizers for the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Wilmington 10 Pardon of Innocence Project say ultimately more support, from every quarter, will be needed.


So far, at least two members of Congress, the heads of both the national and state NAACP, a prominent UNC-Chapel Hill law professor, and the head of the United Church of Christ have joined a growing number of supporters on Facebook, and an online national petition at Change.org, calling for North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the 10 civil rights activists falsely convicted – and later cleared – of conspiracy to commit murder and arson four decades ago.


In his letter of support to Gov. Perdue, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield [D-N.C.], a former North Carolina Associate Supreme Court justice, wrote: “As a former member of the North Carolina judiciary, and now a member of the United States House of Representatives, I have worked my entire adult life to bring equality and racial justice to my community, state and country. It is never too late to see justice fully achieved.”
That sentiment was echoed by Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ.


“Any injustice of this magnitude is worth revisiting and rectifying, no matter how long ago it occurred,” Black said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for the governor of the state of North Carolina to undo the wrong done to these individuals and their families.”
A Perdue spokesman said she will take the pardon request under consideration.


United Church of Christ activist Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was assigned to organize a protest around racial discrimination in the public school system in Wilmington. Ten people, most of them teenagers at the time, were charged with the 1971 firebombing of a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington and attacking firefighters who tried to extinguish the blaze.


The 10 were convicted and sentenced to a total 282 years in prison, with Chavis drawing 34 years.


In 1980, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, the withholding of exculpatory evidence, and all three of the state’s witnesses recanting their testimonies and confessing that they were bribed by state prosecutors, overturned those convictions.


The state was forced to release the 10 from prison, but refused to pardon them. Consequently, a legal cloud has remained for 32 years.


On May 17, attorneys for the seven survivors and the families of the three deceased Wilmington 10 members filed a petition for individual pardons of innocence with the governor’s Office of Executive Clemency. The petition was filed on behalf of Chavis, Connie Tindall, Willie Earl Vereen, Marvin Patrick, Anne Shepard Turner (deceased), William “Joe” Wright (deceased), Wayne Moore, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs (deceased), and James McKoy.


“Our petition is for a declaration of actual innocence [from] the governor,” attorney Irving Joyner, pardon project co-chair, told reporters. “Our claim for actual innocence is based on the court record; based on judicial determinations that are already made…”


James Ferguson of Charlotte, the lead defense lawyer for the Wilmington 10 in 1972, said that since then they, “…have labored under an unjust conviction, and for 40 years they have done it with dignity, and without bitterness.”


NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant, said the NNPA, a federation of more than 200 black newspapers, is sponsoring the pardon project because the story of the Wilmington Ten “must be told,” so that young people in the black community can learn from it and better themselves.


Benjamin Chavis, who is also an NNPA columnist, told reporters and supporters, “The case of the Wilmington 10 is about justice for all people. Forty years ago, we stood up for what, in the presence of God, was right and in the presence of our community.”


A Cary woman who saw news coverage of the pardon story, started a national online petition on Change.Org at https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-10.


On the popular social media site Facebook, in just two days, more than 100 people “liked” the Wilmington Ten Pardon of Innocence Project site, and urged others to join.


Organizers are directing those who want to learn more about the Wilmington Ten online to go to “Triumphant Warriors” at http://triumphantwarriors.ning.com/, which is hosted by Wilmington Ten member Wayne Moore.


There are also plans for a dedicated NNPA-sponsored Web site that will not only display historical videos, photographs and writings about the Wilmington Ten, but updates and stories about the current pardon effort.


In addition, there are plans to form a local advisory committee in Wilmington, and a national committee, with the goal of attracting more broad-based support from across the state and nation.


U.S. Rep. Brad Miller [D-N.C.] wrote to Perdue: “Although the years of incarceration can’t be reclaimed, North Carolina can still address [this] injustice with a pardon to clear the factual record, and concede serious state wrongdoing.”


Professor Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law wrote, “It is imperative that the state of North Carolina act to remove constitutional injuries inflicted in so invidious a manner.”


Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, presented a resolution to the national NAACP Board last weekend in Miami, Fla. in support of the Wilmington 10. In his letter to Perdue, he wrote: “Our [legal] system does not empower our courts to repair and heal such breaches and wounds [of false convictions]. Our Constitution, instead, places such acts of human compassion in your hands.”

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