I don't know if anyone remembers the Wilmington 10; but this news made me so happy today. Long time coming too.
North Carolina governor pardons 'Wilmington 10'
By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 7:30 PM EST, Mon December 31, 2012
Benjamin Chavis speaks at a news conference in 1978 the day after Gov. Jim Hunt reduced the sentences of the Wilmington 10.
(CNN) -- Forty years after they were convicted by a
jury of firebombing a grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina, civil
rights activists who became known as the "Wilmington 10" were pardoned
Monday by the state's outgoing governor.
"These convictions were
tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina's
criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer,"
said Gov. Beverly Purdue. "Justice demands that this stain finally be
In 1972, nine black men
and one white woman were convicted in the store firebombing in the
coastal city despite their claims of innocence and their supporters'
vehement argument that the defendants were victims of racially biased
Their sentences were
reduced in 1978 by the state's governor then, Jim Hunt, and two years
later their convictions were overturned in federal court for reasons of
misconduct by the prosecutors.
But until Monday there
were no pardons, and the sting of the guilty verdicts still followed the
six surviving members of the group that was known nationwide as the
Perdue said that among
the key evidence that led her to grant pardons of innocence were
recently discovered notes from the prosecutor who picked the jury. The
notes showed the prosecutor preferred white jurors who might be members
of the Ku Klux Klan and one black juror was described as an "Uncle Tom
Perdue also pointed to
the federal court's ruling that the prosecutor knew his star witness
lied on the witness stand. That witness and other witnesses recanted a
few years after the trial.
Timothy Taylor, a North
Carolina historian and a visiting professor at Duke University, said he
was given the notes two years ago and started to go through them
recently when the NAACP called again for pardons for the Wilmington 10.
"It was pretty shocking stuff," he told CNN on Monday.
There were at least six
potential jurors with "KKK Good!!" written next to them, he said. Next
to a woman's name it said, "NO, she associates with Negroes."
On the back of the legal
pad, the prosecutor, Jay Stroud, had apparently written the advantages
and disadvantages of a mistrial, Taylor said. One of the advantages was a
fresh start with a new jury.
Stroud told the
Wilmington StarNews in October that the handwriting on the legal pad was
his, but people were misinterpreting his notes.
"I could have had an all-white jury, but I didn't want to do that. Why would I leave a KKK on the jury?" Stroud said.
He told the newspaper that he wanted "blacks who could be fair" on the jury.
It was actually the
second jury that ruled on the case. The first jury was dismissed after a
mistrial was declared when Stroud said he was ill. That jury had two
Taylor said the early
1970s were "really hard and really bad" and a "bubbling cauldron" of
racially heated struggles in the state.
North Carolina had the
largest number of Ku Klux Klan members in the country, he said, but
there was also a strong African-American freedom movement.
"(The time) was seething with anger and resentment and fear and rage," he said.
And one of the
Wilmington 10 was the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, whom Taylor described as a
handsome, fearless civil rights leader who came from a brilliant family.
He was a threat to the "old guard" of North Carolina leaders.
Chavis was a target for police even before the firebombing occurred, Taylor said.
Chavis, who would become the head of the NAACP in 1993, was paroled in 1979.
Most of the others involved in the case struggled after they were set free.
"Things went badly for them," Taylor said. "Many of them had their health broken in prison."
In addition to Chavis, the surviving members of the Wilmington 10 are
Reginald Epps, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick and Willie Earl
Vereen. Those who have died are Jerry Jacobs, Ann Shepard, Connie
Tindall and Joe Wright.
Edited by PurpleHaze - Dec 31 2012 at 6:50pm