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EXCLUSIVE: NAACP mounts national Wilmington Ten petition

BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL

The national NAACP has once again joined its North Carolina conference of chapters in supporting pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.

Meanwhile a distinguished UNC – Chapel Hill law professor who worked on the Wilmington Ten case as a young law student, has agreed to write Gov. Beverly Perdue, urging her to grant individual pardons of actual innocence to the ten civil rights activists who were falsely tried, convicted and sentenced to 282 years in prison for crimes forty years they did not commit.

And sources say there is opposition to the proposed pardons, primarily from former law enforcement and state officials who still believe – despite no evidence proving that the Wilmington Ten had anything to do with the 1971 firebombing of a White-owned grocery store, or sniper shots at responding firemen – that they are guilty.

This week, the national NAACP tweeted out to its hundreds of thousands of members across the country an appeal for them to sign a brand new petition in support of the Wilmington Ten pardons effort.

“Wrongfully framed by the courts, we ask that North Carolina clear the names of these ten innocent people – four of whom are now deceased – who deserve their justice forty years later,” the NAACP petition states.

“Forty years later we stand together in the name of justice for the Wilmington Ten and their families. Let us put such issues to rest and move forward from the days of racial tensions and injustices,” the NAACP petition statement continues.

“Pardon the Wilmington Ten and declare them their warranted innocence. They deserve nothing less than to get an opportunity to put this experience behind them, and have their names cleared for history, once and for all.”

The NAACP petition can be found at http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-petitions. It should be signed by Nov. 28th.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous agreed to make the national appeal when he visited North Carolina two weeks ago to join NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber for a pre-election press conference.

In concert with Rev. Barber, Jealous was supportive of the cause months before it was made public last spring.

“There are still too many black activists who are still being mistreated in this country, who carry badges of shame, if you will, for spending time in prison, who at the end of the day their only crime was standing up for the people,” Jealous told The Wilmington Journal last March. “In the case of the Wilmington Ten, we will push [for pardons] and support our state conference in their push to ensure that finally, their names are cleared.”

Two days after the pardons of innocence effort was made public last May, NCNAACP Pres. Rev. Barber, along with civil rights attorney Al McSurely, and NAACP Board Executive Committee member Carolyn Coleman, pushed through a resolution that was unanimously adopted by the national NAACP Board of Directors.

Rev. Barber also facilitated having the Pardon Project’s hard copy petitions setup during the national convention in Houston, Texas last summer, and was the keynote speaker during the June 26th prayer rally at St. Stephen’s Church in Wilmington.

Support from the nation’s oldest civil rights organization and its leaders hasn’t stopped there.

On Tuesday, Nov. 27th, the state NAACP will hold a press conference at the state Capital to speak out about the newly discovered Stroud files, the handwritten notes of Wilmington Ten prosecutor from the 1972 trials.

The prosecutor’s notes document how he not only attempted to gerrymander a “KKK” and “Uncle Tom” type jury to assure convictions of the Wilmington Ten, but deliberately calculated a mistrial in the first trial because a jury of ten blacks and two whites had been selected.

When the second trial commenced in September 1972, Stroud was able to engineer a jury of ten whites and two blacks, in addition to three witnesses he coerced into committing perjury.

The Wilmington Ten were ultimately convicted.

The prosecutor’s notes are clear and convincing evidence that race was not just a factor in his selection of the 10 Whites and two Blacks on the Pender jury that convicted the Wilmington Ten,” veteran civil rights attorney Al McSurely says. “Race was the only factor. Forty years later, we know his real motives. I believe when the governor studies this evidence, she will do the right thing and sign the pardons.”

While the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in Dec. 1980, the state of North Carolina never did. The Wilmington Ten have remained convicted felons in the state ever since.

With Gov. Beverly Perdue leaving office on Dec. 31st, the push is on deliver all petitions and support letters to her by the first week in December.

UNC – Chapel Hill School of Law Professor Richard Rosen, considered an expert in criminal law, has agreed to join the other legal scholars, elected officials and members of Congress is formally asking Gov. Perdue to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.

For Rosen, this case is more than just what he has read in a law book.

“I actually attended a few days of the trial, and when I was a law student I worked with [Wilmington ten lead defense attorney] James Ferguson on the appeals,” Prof. Rosen told The Wilmington Journal. “I also was involved in some of the post-trial organizing. So I’m willing to do whatever I can to help.”

(To sign the Change.Org online petition asking Gov. Beverly Perdue to grant pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten, please go to https://www.change.org/petitions/nc-governor-bev-perdue-pardon-the-wilmington-ten Those who would like to write a letter to Gov. Perdue before Dec. 1, asking her to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten, should send them to:

Hon. Beverly Eaves Perdue

Governor of North Carolina

20301 Mail Service Center

Raleigh, NC 27699-0301)

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