Support Swells For Wilmington Ten Pardons
by CASH MICHAELS
The Wilmington Journal
After only a week, significant local and national
support to secure pardons of innocence for the
Wilmington Ten is already coming in.
But organizers for the National Newspaper Publishers
Association's ''Wilmington Ten Pardon of Innocence
Project'' say ultimately more support, from every
quarter, will be needed.
Thus 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, in calling on NC Gov. Beverly Perdue to
grant pardons of innocence to the ten civil rights
activists falsely convicted of conspiracy to commit
murder and arson four decades ago.
In his letter of support to Gov. Perdue, NC Congressman
G. K. Butterfield [D-NC-1], a former NC Associate
Supreme Court justice, wrote, "As a former member of
the North Carolina judiciary, and now a member of the
United State 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 the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black,
general minister and president of the United Church of
"Any injustice of this magnitude is worth revisiting
and rectifying, no matter how long ago it occurred,''
Rev. Black said in a statement last week. ''This is an
opportunity for the governor of the state of North
Carolina to undo the wrong done to these individuals and
Rev. Black continued, ''The United Church of Christ
stood with the Wilmington Ten in their quest for justice
then, and we stand with the Wilmington Ten now as they
pursue an official pardon from the governor.''
Perdue's press office indicated that the governor will
give the pardon request due consideration.
Led by then UCC civil rights leader Rev. Benjamin F.
Chavis, Jr. to protest racial discrimination in the
public school system in Wilmington, the ten - mostly
teenagers at the time - were falsely charged forty years
ago for the 1971 firebombing of a Wilmington, NC white-
owned grocery store, and subsequent sniper fire at
firefighters, during the height of racial tension there.
The ten were collectively tried, convicted and sentenced
to 282 years in prison, with Chavis drawing 34 years.
In 1980, the US 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
But the state of North Carolina, which had released the
ten earlier from prison, refused to pardon them. As a
result, a legal cloud has remained for the past 32
On May 17th, attorneys for the seven survivors, and the
families of the three deceased Wilmington Ten members,
filed a petition for individual pardons of innocence
with the NC Governor's Office of Executive Clemency for
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."
Attorney James Ferguson, the lead defense lawyer for the
Wilmington Ten in 1972, said that since then they,
". . .have labored under an unjust conviction, and for
forty years they have done it with dignity, and without
NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell, Jr., publisher of the
Arizona Informant, was present at the press conference,
as were NNPA Board members and publishers Dorothy
Leavell of the Chicago Crusader; John B. Smith of the
Atlanta Inquirer; and Mary Alice Thatch, publisher of
The Wilmington Journal, which strongly advocated for the
ten when they were first convicted in 1972.
Campbell said the NNPA was 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.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, who is also an NNPA columnist, told
reporters and supporters, "The case of the Wilmington
Ten is about justice for all people." "Forty years
ago, we stood up for what, in the presence of God, was
right," Chavis said, adding, "and in the presence of
It is because of that commitment to the community over
forty years ago that supporters across the country are
being encouraged to join the national petition drive to
ask Gov. Perdue to grant the pardons of innocence to the
Wilmington Ten this year before she leaves office in
A Cary, North Carolina woman who saw news coverage of
the pardon story, started a national online petition at
Change.Org titled, "NC Governor Bev Perdue: Pardon the
Wilmington Ten" at
At press time she had collected over fifty signatures in
one day, and expects more as the story gets more
On the popular social media site Facebook, in just two
days, over one hundred people "liked" the Wilmington
Ten Pardon of Innocence Project site, and actively urged
others to join them.
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
website that will not only display historical videos,
stills and writings about the Wilmington Ten, but
updates and stories about the current pardon effort.
There are also plans to form a local advisory committee
in Wilmington, and a national committee, with the
expressed task of attracting more broad-based support
from across the state and nation.
Democratic Congressman Brad Miller of North Carolina's
13th Congressional District, urged Gov. Perdue in his
letter of pardon support, "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
Fourth District Congressman David Price, also a
Democrat, told Gov. Perdue in his letter, "Although the
convictions were overturned, I don't believe justice has
yet been served in this case. The Wilmington Ten were
wrongly accused and spent many years of their lives
imprisoned for crimes they did not commit."
"They were innocent," Rep. Price concluded, "and they
deserve to be pardoned."
Professor Gene Nichol, of the University of North
Carolina School of Law, wrote Gov. Perdue, "It is
imperative that the state of North Carolina act to
remove constitutional injuries inflicted in so invidious
And North Carolina NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, who
presented a resolution to the national NAACP Board last
weekend in Miami, Fla. in support of the Wilmington Ten,
told Gov. Perdue in his letter, "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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