FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Wilmington 10 Pardon

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.

 

More articles by:

Lamont Lilly is the 2016 Workers World Party, U.S. Vice-Presidential Candidate. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In 2015, he was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon.

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail