by Cash Michaels
NNPA News Service
RALEIGH, N.C. – Seven survivors and the families of three deceased members of the Wilmington Ten – 1970s civil rights activists convicted 40 years ago of conspiracy charges to commit violence – are scheduled to formally petition North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday (May 17) to grant each wronged activist a formal pardon.
The petition filing was announced at a press conference last week by members and family of the group; their attorney, Irving Joyner; National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) board members; and numerous supporters outside the North Carolina State Capitol. James Ferguson, an attorney in the original case, has joined Joyner as co-counsel.
The pardon petition, drafted by Joyner, who was the original coordinator of the Wilmington Ten legal defense for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, described the Wilmington Ten case as "...a politically inspired prosecution."
It urges Gov. Perdue to issue the pardons, "...in order to declare each Wilmington Ten member innocent of the offense for which they were wrongfully prosecuted and convicted in the New Hanover County Superior Court in September 1972."
Those convictions were eventually overturned on appeal, leading to the release of the Wilmington Ten.
"There are still too many Black activists who are still being mistreated in this country, who carry badges of shame, if you will, for spending time in prison, who at the end of the day, their only crime was standing up for the people," Benjamin Todd Jealous, president/CEO of the NAACP, explained in an interview. "In the case of the Wilmington Ten, we will push (for pardons) and support our state conference in their push to ensure that finally, their names are cleared."
The pardons, if granted, would officially declare the innocence of the seven surviving members – Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., Wayne Moore, Marvin Eugene Patrick, Connie Levinesky Tindall, James Matthew McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, Reginald Epps – as well as the three deceased members: Anne Shepard-Turner, William "Joe" Wright, and Jerry Gerald Jacobs.
The charges against them, all related to the firebombing of Mike's Grocery in Wilmington on Feb. 6, 1971, included conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to assault emergency personnel, conspiracy to burn property with incendiary devices and the actual burning of property.
The defendants were convicted and collectively sentenced to 282 years in prison. Their ages at the time ranged from 19 to 35. Today, most of the surviving members are growing old and are in failing health.
Some revealed that after their arrests, police offered to set them free if they would turn state's evidence against their co-defendants, especially Wilmington Ten leader Ben Chavis.
It was an offer they refused.
(Special to the NNPA News Service from The Wilmington Journal)