By unanimous vote, the national NAACP Board passed a resolution during its Florida retreat last weekend supporting the petition of pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.
Rev. William Barber, president of the NCNAACP and a national NAACP Board member, and veteran civil rights attorney Al McSurely, crafted the resolution language. Barber, who is also chair of the national NAACP’s Political Action Committee, then asked NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock to have the meeting agenda amended to allow for the proposed resolution to be heard, which it was without objection.
Guilford County, NC Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, another member of the national NAACP Board and Executive Committee member, introduced the motion, and after strong lobbying by both Ms. Coleman and Rev. Barber, it passed unanimously.
”What this means is not only do we have a public endorsement of the [national] NAACP,” says Rev. Barber, ”but passage of a board resolution makes this an NAACP policy throughout the entire association, and the full weight and structure [of the NAACP] is available to support and promote the call for a pardon [of innocence],”
”This is why Ms. Coleman and I felt it necessary to insist and ensure that this resolution passed.”
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., leader of the Wilmington Ten, and past president of the national NAACP, upon hearing the news of the resolution, thanked Rev. Barber, adding, ”May God continue to bless the NAACP.”
The draft resolution to the NAACP Board supporting the petition for pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten reads:
WHEREAS in September 1972 ten young North Carolinians were tried and convicted of major felonies in New Hanover County;
AND WHEREAS after the dust settled, it turned out their main crime was trying to obey the law, namely the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court to dismantle the separate and unequal school systems of New Hanover County;
AND WHEREAS the young people were Benjamin Chavis, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, Connie Tindall, James McKoy, Willie Vereen, Reginald Epps, Anne Shepard-Turner, William ”Joe” Wright, and Jerry Jacobs, and were popularly called ”The Wilmington Ten”;
AND WHEREAS in 1980, after the young people had spent many years in prison, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled they had been victims of outrageous acts of prosecutorial misconduct, Chavez v. State of North Carolina, 637 F.2d 213, using language all too familiar to those of us who believe in racial justice in North Carolina, saying: ”The prosecution’s failure to produce . . . to defense counsel the ‘amended’ statement and the record of the hospitalization of the state’s key witness and the restrictions upon cross-examination of the key witness and another about favorable treatment which might have induced favorable testimony require us to overturn the convictions” ;
AND WHEREAS such gross prosecutorial misconduct is too often associated with the trials of poor minorities and civil rights activists;
AND WHEREAS each time this linkage is validated by higher courts, it widens the breach in our human family, and aggravates the hurts of past indignities;
AND WHEREAS our constitution does not empower the courts to repair and heal such breaches and wounds, but rather places such acts of human compassion in the Governor’s hands;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the National NAACP will do all in its power to help its North Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches and its broad Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition in convincing the Hon. Governor Beverly Perdue to grant a full pardon to the Wilmington Ten, and become, as the Prophet Isaiah would say, ”a repairer of the breach.”