FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 4, 2012
For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919-394-8137
Mrs. Amina J. Turner, Executive Director, 919-682-4700
North Carolina NAACP Brings Resolution Supporting Pardons for Wilmington Ten to NAACP National Board of Directors; Passes Unanimously
DURHAM – On May 19, 2012, the NAACP National Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution to do all it can to persuade NC Governor Beverly Perdue to grant full pardons to the ten young people wrongfully imprisoned in Wilmington in 1972.
"The National NAACP’s support for full pardons for the Wilmington 10 adds great weight to the growing movement for some measure of justice for these ten freedom fighters and their families. They were locked up for the best years of their lives because they stood up for the oppressed and marginalized portions of our society," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. "North Carolina cannot go on without addressing this total violation of the rights of these ten individuals and the racially-biased system that put them in jail in the first place."
Dr. Barber, a national NAACP Board Member, and veteran civil rights attorney Al McSurely crafted the resolution language. Barber, who is also chair of the national NAACP’s Political Action Committee, asked NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock to allow for the proposed resolution to be heard, which it was without objection.
Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, another member of the national NAACP Board and 1st Vice President of the NC NAACP, introduced the motion. After a powerful presentation by Ms. Coleman, the resolution passed unanimously. When people hear the facts of the case, back in the early 1970’s, they are outraged at this egregious miscarriage of justice.
In 1971, the United Church of Christ asked 24-year-old Rev. Benjamin Chavis to go to Wilmington to help other young black activists organize for educational, economic and social equality. Two years before, the white-controlled School Board shut down Williston High School, the African-American high school, to retaliate against the federal court-ordered desegregation (a case brought by the NAACP). Williston’s closing shocked the black community. By 1971 this vengeful act still caused pain and anger in the black community.
Wilmington had become a near police state, with white vigilante groups riding through the black neighborhoods, shooting up churches and homes. It was a repeat of the terrorist attacks on the Black community in 1898, documented so thoroughly by the official 1898 Commission. Instead of stopping the terrorists roaming free in the city, it was decided at the highest level to frame some of the young activists who were working to enforce the desegregation court orders. When a white business was burned, police found a couple of witnesses who said they saw Benjamin Chavis and some other young activists near the scene of the fire. Based on this, ten young people were arrested and sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. After an international movement developed to free them, the Federal Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 1980. The appellate decision found the arrests to be racially and politically motivated, and a deceitful attack on the ten young activists. Despite this strong decision, the State of North Carolina has never pardoned any of the Wilmington 10 of the bogus charges.
Two weeks ago, May 17th, the Wilmington 10 legal team, which includes Irving Joyner, NC NAACP Legal Redress Chair, and James Ferguson, both of whom have been involved with the case since the 1970’s, filed with Governor Perdue a petition for pardons of each of the Wilmington 10. The Resolution adopted by the National NAACP completes the story:
WHEREAS in September 1972 ten young North Carolinians were tried and convicted of major felonies in New Hanover County;
AND WHEREAS after the dust settled, it turned out their main crime was trying to obey the law, namely the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court to dismantle the separate and unequal school systems of New Hanover County;
AND WHEREAS the young people were Benjamin Chavis, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, Connie Tindall, James McKoy, Willie Vereen, Reginald Epps, Anne Shepard-Turner, William "Joe" Wright, and Jerry Jacobs, and were popularly called "The Wilmington Ten";
AND WHEREAS in 1980, after the young people had spent many years in prison, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled they had been victims of outrageous acts of prosecutorial misconduct, Chavez v. State of North Carolina, 637 F.2d 213, using language all too familiar to those of us who believe in racial justice in North Carolina, saying: "The prosecution’s failure to produce . . . to defense counsel the ‘amended’ statement and the record of the hospitalization of the state’s key witness and the restrictions upon cross-examination of the key witness and another about favorable treatment which might have induced favorable testimony require us to overturn the convictions";
AND WHEREAS such gross prosecutorial misconduct is too often associated with the trials of poor minorities and civil rights activists;
AND WHEREAS each time this linkage is validated by higher courts, it widens the breach in our human family, and aggravates the hurts of past indignities;
AND WHEREAS our constitution does not empower the courts to repair and heal such breaches and wounds, but rather places such acts of human compassion in the Governor’s hands;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT REOLVED that the National NAACP will do all in its power to help its North Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches and its broad Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition in convincing the Hon. Governor Beverly Perdue to grant a full pardon to the Wilmington Ten, and become, as the Prophet Isaiah would say, "a repairer of the breach."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.