Forty years ago, 10 civil rights activists were falsely convicted of charges stemming from the firebombing of a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington. All were sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison, part of which they served until 1980, when their sentences were overturned. Last night, WHQR’s Asia Brown attended a rally to kickoff a national campaign to pardon those known as the Wilmington Ten.
About 150 people filled the pews of St. Stephen’s AME Church in support of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project. It hopes to gather 100,000 signatures over the next four months. The petitions would support paperwork already filed with Governor Bev Perdue’s office seeking individual pardons for all ten members. James McKoy is one of seven surviving members. He says the pardon would be a long overdue apology.
“Forty years is a long time for justice. Just to get the pardon, it’ll knock a whole lot out of the way. The court overturned the conviction, but I’m quite sure I ain’t no fool to be serving time for you for nothing.”
Judy Mack is the daughter of Ann Shephard, the only white activist convicted in the 1972 trial. Even after Shephard’s death, Mack believes that a pardon would honor her mother’s commitment to civil rights.
“Of course, we would have loved it had it been 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago. But now, before it’s too late, before any more of the member pass away. Because I don’t want their children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren to go through life with that same feeling that the Wilmington Ten was in the wrong when they were doing what was right.”
Connie Tindall, another Wilmington Ten member, hopes his beloved home state will finally right this injustice. He says one thing has helped him stay the course over the last four decades.
“God. And you know, the realization of being right all along. We will be vindicated. That’s what kept me going all this time. God be my secret judge, I believe it from day one, and I believe it still. So I’ll hold on.”