RALLY FOR THE WILMINGTON TEN PARDON EFFORT JUNE 26
By Cash Michaels
Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, will be the keynote speaker during a faith community rally in support of the Wilmington Ten pardons of innocence effort, scheduled for Tuesday, June 26th, 7 until 8:30 p.m. at Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ at 609 Nun Street in Wilmington.
The event, still being planned at presstime, is a joint effort of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Pardon Project, the New Hanover County NAACP chapter, the Local Advisory Committee of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, and the NC NAACP.
Rev. Barber, along with attorney Al McSurely of Chapel Hill, and national NAACP Board member Carolyn Q. Coleman of Greensboro, was instrumental is securing a May 19th unanimous resolution from the national NAACP Board of Directors in support of a petition for ten individual pardons of actual innocence for the Wilmington Ten that was filed with Governor Beverly Perdue’s office last month.
Letters of support have already come in from three North Carolina congresspeople, several members of the NC General Assembly, and others.
An online petition at Change.Org has already netted over 350 signatures from as far away as Canada.
During the June 26th event, beyond Rev. Barber’s keynote, there will be gospel singing, and remarks from members of the Wilmington Ten, their families and supporters.
Gregory Congregational UCC is historically significant because is was the only black church in Wilmington in 1971 that would allow demonstrating black students who were protesting racial bias in the New Hanover County Public Schools to meet, and coordinate their protest efforts during the height of racial tensions there.
Authorities would later allege that after a white-owned grocery store down the block had been firebombed, snipers from the roof of Gregory Church fired upon firefighters. In 1972, several of the black students, a white female community worker, and their leader, UCC minister Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, were arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection to the firebombing.
When they went to trial forty years ago, they became know as the Wilmington Ten. They were falsely convicted, and sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. Individually, they served between four and six years in prison before an early release by then Gov. Jim Hunt.
These convictions and sentencing sparked national protests and gained international attention and condemnation. In 1977, the three State’s witnesses, who testified against the Ten, recanted their testimonies in court. The CBS News’ program “60 Minutes” then exposed the State’s evidence as “fabricated” by prosecutors, and in 1980, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions based upon that Court’s independent determinations that the Prosecutor and the Trial Judge allowed the introduction of perjured testimony and with-held critical evidence which defense attorneys were entitled to receive.
For the past forty years, the Wilmington Ten have had to live with a cloud over their heads. The state of North Carolina has never declared them innocent.
For more information about the Wilmington ten case, go to https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-ten.