During a period of terrible racial tension in Wilmington in 1972, 10 civil rights activists -- one white woman and nine African-American men -- were sentenced to prison in connection with the fire-bombing of Mike’s Grocery, a white-owned store on 6th Street in downtown Wilmington. All 10 proclaimed their innocence.
After nearly a decade of stories of misconduct on the part of the prosecution and the court systems, the convictions were overturned in 1980, and the 10 were set free.
Irving Joyner, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University, assisted the defense fund during the trial and helped file the petition for the pardon last May. Joyner said that even though the courts overturned the convictions, the state has never cleared their names.
“The state of North Carolina has never stepped forward to say that we messed up,” said Joyner. “So emotionally, they are certainly looking for just some semblance of humility and humanity from the state to say that we recognize your innocence and officially proclaim that you’re innocent.”
Joyner says if Governor Perdue does not issue the pardon before she leaves office next month, the group will re-file a petition with Governor-Elect Pat McCrory.
Four of the Wilmington 10 have passed away since the events of 1971.