The Wilmington 10 Pardon

by LAMONT LILLY

On Dec. 31, outgoing North Carolina governor, Beverly Perdue, pardoned The Wilmington 10 – Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Connie Tindall, Marvin Patrick, Wayne Moore, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, William Wright, Jr. and Ann Shepard – who had sentences ranging from 15 to 34 years following their convictions in 1972. Thankfully, a prolonged national struggle emerged and Perdue was forced to publicly admit that their sentences were “tainted by naked racism” (CNN, Jan. 1). On the very last day of 2012, justice was finally served for the nine Black and one white member of the 10.

In 1978, N.C. governor, Jim Hunt, had reduced the sentences of the 10 but offered no pardon. In 1980, formal charges against The Wilmington 10 were overturned but still on record. It was later reported that prosecutors had manufactured evidence and coerced witnesses. Three of the state’s key witnesses recanted their testimonies in 1980, admitting they had committed perjury. Most of the members of the 10 spent several years in jail. Before Perdue’s pardon, the NC chapter of the NAACP revealed newly discovered documentation that prosecutors intentionally sabotaged the first trial to manipulate jury selection.

Background on the case

In 1971, racial outbursts in the city of Wilmington shocked the world. The political and social undercurrent of racism and bigotry were still festering in the aftermath of the signing of historic Civil Rights bills in 1964 and 1965. Police had murdered a black teenager, while two white security guards had been killed.

The National Guard was called to patrol the city, to protect its downtown and commercial district from a potential race war. All of the key players were in attendance – the Klu Klux Klan and their local support organization, The Rights of White People – while frustrated Black residents including youth towed the progressive side. Anyone who pressed for change and racial solidarity became a threat to social order and the complete reign of white supremacy. Though skin color was the major line, Blacks weren’t the only targets. White allies who were seen as ‘trying to make integration work’ were also targeted by the Klu Klux Klan. White southerner and superintendent of schools, Hayward Bellamy was almost lynched to death in front of his family.

wilmington 10 pic III

In the newly integrated schools, tensions from the classroom spilled over into the hallways, cafeteria and common areas. Public education was in serious disarray. Black and white residents avoided the streets, while local congregations were in the heat of battle. Wilmington had recently failed at forced integration when Black students were discriminated against in the classroom, from participating in student government, and barred from the debate team and glee club. The city’s false brand of integration had blocked its newly arriving Black students from a good education. In response, some youth decided to boycott the Wilmington School System and found themselves targeted by white supremacy. As formerly the most powerful political organizations on the Carolina coast, the Klu Klux Klan and ‘The Rights of White People’ were still quite active, vigorously rearing their ugly heads. Masked knight-riders terrorized Wilmington’s downtown district. Black youth armed themselves in self-defense when a local minister was shot. Following the city’s central black neighborhood being sprayed with bullets over a two night period, The Wilmington 10 were framed and then accused of firebombing a local grocery store.

1898–a reign of racist terror

The experiences of The Wilmington 10 actually date back to the 1898 Wilmington Race Riots, to a time of overt racial oppression and forced inequality. These race riots marked a new era of racist reign just two years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Jim Crow segregation through Plessy vs Ferguson. This gave the green light to many Black and progressive whites being forcibly evicted from their homes by white supremacists and southern elitists.

The first order of business for local klansmen was to break the backs of Wilmington’s black working-class, to disenfranchise their economic stronghold, which by 1895 had just begun to thrive. At this time, Wilmington was the national symbol of Black hope. It was in Wilmington where Blacks owned land and openly participated in local politics. In this small budding city on the outer banks of North Carolina, Blacks were crafts workers, tailors and furniture makers. They were brick-masons, teachers and architects. They were plumbers, plasterers and even owned a newspaper, The Daily Record. Blacks in Wilmington owned 20 of the city’s 22 barbershops and one of the city’s three real estate firms. As then the largest and most prominent city in N.C., it also had a Black-majority population. At the close of the 19th century, Wilmington was one of the few cities in the U.S. were both Black and white people employed each other.

The second order of business was the white working class who had allied with local Blacks. The Klu Klux Klan was looking to intimidate anyone who supported an interracial new America. In 1898, armed white militia terrorized such social unity and achievements. Hate mongers burned down businesses and the headquarters of the Black-owned newspaper. Well-organized mobs targeted successful Black citizens and local leaders with direct violence, gunfire and permanent banishment. The offices of Black politicians and city officials were raided and taken over. Wilmington’s 1898 Race Riot was a critical turning point in the history of the South, a crucial blow to the pursuit of freedom and equality for all.

Needless to say, The Wilmington 10 and the racial outburst of 1971 was merely a reflection of deep-rooted oppression from decades earlier – political and social conditions that restricted progress in Wilmington, forcing Black youth to take a stand in response to being fed up with the city’s 70-year status quo.

The Wilmington 10 are a testament to the spirit of true resistance, the epitome of people power, and the potential of interracial solidarity. As high school youth, The Wilmington 10 lived what we must embody today – the will of struggle in the face of hate. Their recent pardon was a big step forward in the struggle for justice, but the people must never forget. As the next wave of revolutionaries, we must borrow from their spirit. We must take their batons and continue to march on.

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press, Human Rights Delegate with Witness for Peace and organizer with Workers World Socialist Party. He resides in Durham, NC as a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire