By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from The Wilmington Journal
WILMINGTON, N.C. (NNPA) – The national NAACP has now joined its North Carolina conference of chapters in supporting pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.
Meanwhile sources maintain that there is opposition to the proposed pardons, primarily from former law enforcement and state officials who still believe – despite no evidence proving that the Wilmington Ten had anything to do with the 1971 firebombing of a White-owned grocery store, or sniper shots at responding firemen – that they are guilty.
With the deadline for petitions and support letters looming, last week the national NAACP tweeted out an appeal to its 32,000-plus followers on Twitter to sign a new petition in support of the Wilmington Ten pardons effort.
“Wrongfully framed by the courts, we ask that North Carolina clear the names of these ten innocent people – four of whom are now deceased – who deserve their justice forty years later,” the NAACP petition states.
“Forty years later we stand together in the name of justice for the Wilmington Ten and their families. Let us put such issues to rest and move forward from the days of racial tensions and injustices,” the NAACP petition statement continues. “Pardon the Wilmington Ten and declare them their warranted innocence. They deserve nothing less than to get an opportunity to put this experience behind them, and have their names cleared for history, once and for all.”
The NAACP petition can be found at http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-petitions. It should be signed by Nov. 30.
“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,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous told The Carolinian last March. “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.”
Two days after the pardons of innocence effort was made public last May, and with the blessings of NAACP Board Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, the North Carolina NAACP president, Rev. William Barber, along with civil rights attorney Al McSurely, and NAACP Board Executive Committee member Carolyn Coleman, pushed through a resolution supporting the Wilmington Ten that was unanimously adopted by the national NAACP Board of Directors.
Rev. Barber also facilitated having the Pardon Project’s hard copy petitions setup during the national convention in Houston, Texas last summer, and was the keynote speaker during the June 26 prayer rally at St. Stephen’s Church in Wilmington.
Support from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization and its leaders hasn’t stopped there.
In an effort to make sure that North Carolina’s major newspapers were fully apprised of both the moral and legal implications of the Wilmington Ten case, the state NAACP, joined by area ministers, along with Pardon Project attorney Irving Joyner, and civil rights attorney Al McSurely, held a press conference last week in Raleigh, urging the governor to grant the pardons.
The legal argument hinged not only on the Ten’s innocence and the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals 1980 ruling overturning the convictions, but also on the newly discovered handwritten notes of state prosecutor James “Jay” Stroud.
The prosecutor’s notes document how he not only attempted to hand-pick a “KKK” and “Uncle Tom” type jury to assure convictions of the Wilmington Ten, but deliberately calculated a mistrial in the first trial because a jury of 10 Blacks and two Whites had been selected.
When the second trial commenced in September 1972, Stroud was able to engineer a jury of 10 Whites and two Blacks, in addition to three witnesses he coerced into committing perjury. The Wilmington Ten were ultimately convicted.
“I believe when the governor studies this evidence, she will do the right thing and sign the pardons,” said attorney McSurely.
The state of North Carolina has let the false convictions stand for 40 years, allowing the Wilmington Ten to remain convicted felons ever since. Four of the Ten have since died, and three of the remaining six are in poor health.
With Gov. Beverly Perdue leaving office on Dec. 31, the push is on deliver all petitions and support letters to her by the first week in December.
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law Professor Richard Rosen, a national expert in criminal law, has agreed to join the other legal scholars, elected officials and members of Congress in formally asking Gov. Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.
For Rosen, this case is more than just what he’s read in a law book.
“I actually attended a few days of the trial, and when I was a law student I worked with [Wilmington ten lead defense attorney] James Ferguson on the appeals,” Prof. Rosen said in a statement. “I also was involved in some of the post-trial organizing. So I’m willing to do whatever I can to help.”
(To sign the Change.Org online petition asking Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten, please go to https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-ten by Nov. 30.)