Black History Past and Present: Pardon the Wilmington Ten

Wayne MooreNo one can right all the wrongs of history, but when there is an opportunity to do so we must take advantage of it.  In 1971 a group of students and a political activist (dubbed the "Wilmington Ten") were convicted of arson in 1971 under very suspicious circumstances.  After given extraordinarily long sentences (some up to 35 years) for a non-violent crime, the Ten were released after serving almost a decade in prison.

As the truth was revealed about the jury (of several KKK members), the recantation of all eyewitness testimony, and the revelation of prosecutor misconduct the Wilmington Ten are asking for official pardon for their crime.  Below is a letter to that effect from one of the Ten, Wayne Moore.

When I was 19, a prosecutor framed me and nine other civil rights activists for firebombing a building in Wilmington, NC. We were dubbed the Wilmington Ten, convicted by a jury that included multiple KKK members, and sentenced to 29 years in prison.

At nineteen, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer or running for office. But when I was released on parole eight years after my conviction, I was shunned by my community and had trouble finding enough work to get by. Worst of all, after being away for so long, my children no longer trusted me.

I'll never get back what I lost -- nor will the other nine people who were wrongly imprisoned. But we deserve to be officially declared innocent. The governor of North Carolina will issue her last pardons over the next two weeks, before she leaves office. I started a petition on Change.org asking Governor Perdue to reverse the injustice that tore our lives apart and pardon the members of the Wilmington Ten. Will you sign my petition?

The Wilmington Ten were working together in 1971 to integrate public schools in our community. 

Wilmington Ten

The Wilmington Ten 1971

Jay Stroud is the District Attorney responsible for our unjust sentencing. He built his case on the testimony of three convicted felons, all of whom retracted their statements just a few years later. A few weeks ago, the notes he took during the trial were released. They show that Stroud bribed witnesses and tried to recruit a jury with as many white racists as possible -- one note next to a jury member read "possibly KKK good."

I have been fighting against my wrongful conviction for decades, before and after I was released. I have struggled tremendously over the years to overcome the paralyzing effects of being imprisoned for crimes I never committed -- but I am determined to clear my name. 

Governors usually issue pardons during their last week in office, and with North Carolina's governor set to leave at the end of the year, this could be our last chance to get a pardon and send a message to the entire country that this injustice will not be tolerated.

The city of Wilmington has already apologized. It is now time for the state of North Carolina to do the same by granting The Wilmington Ten a full pardon of innocence. Please sign my petition today and urge Governor Perdue to pardon me and the other members of the Wilmington Ten.

Thank you for your help.

Wayne Moore

Some Facts About the Wilmington Ten Case

The Wilmington Ten were convicted in 1971 under much public and international outrage.  In 1976. Amnesty International took up the case and provided legal counsel to appeal the convictions. In 1980 in Chavis v. State of North Carolina, the convictions were overturned by the federal appeals court, on the grounds that the prosecutor and the trial judge had both violated the defendants' constitutional rights.

At the time of the arson students were protesting the closing of black schools and the unfair treatment of blacks in the school system.  To help quell the problems the United Church of Christ sent Reverend Benjamin Chavis, Jr. from their Commission for Racial Justice (one of the Wilmington Ten) to Wilmington to try to calm the situation and work with the students. He preached non-violence to them and met with students regularly at Gregory Congregational Church to discuss black history, as well as to organize the boycott.

At the time of the trial, the state's case against the Wilmington Ten was seen as controversial both in the state of North Carolina and in the United States. One witness testified that he was given a minibike in exchange for his testimony against the group. Another witness, Allen Hall, had a history of mental illness and had to be removed from the courthouse after recanting on the stand under cross examination.

The men's sentences in the Wilmington Ten case ranged from 29 years to 34 years for arson, which was an extremely severe punishment for a fire in which no one died.  The sentences for all ten individuals totaled 282 years.

Ben ChavisIn 1976 and 1977, three key prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony.  In 1977 60 Minutes aired a special about the case, suggesting that the evidence against the Wilmington Ten was fabricated.  In 1978, the New York Times reported, based on testimony of an anonymous witness, that perhaps the prosecution had framed a guilty man.

The ultimate overturn of the guilty conviction in 1980 determined that (1) the prosecutor failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, in violation of the defendants' due process rights [the Brady rule]; and (2) the trial judge erred by limiting the cross-examination of key prosecution witnesses about special treatment the witnesses received in connection with their testimony, in violation of the defendants' 6th Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them.

After being freed in 1980 after his conviction was overturned Dr. Ben Chavis Dr. became the Executive Director of the NAACP, and also served as the National Director of the Million Man March.

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