BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
Last May, just before papers were filed with the NC Governor’s Office petitioning for pardons of innocence, Connie Tindall was defiant.The former Wilmington high school football champion – who had dreams in his youth of playing pro for the NFL one day – felt that the state of North Carolina owed him for destroying that dream with its false prosecution and imprisonment of him as a member of the Wilmington Ten.
After four decades of being denied, Tindall declared that now is the time to right the wrong.
“Don’t let it be too late for the rest,” Tindall said, noting that he was among the seven surviving Wilmington Ten members left.
“Don’t let it be too late for the rest.”
But last Friday, August 3, it indeed became “too late” for Connie Tindall. After having minor surgery for a blood clot several weeks ago, Tindall, who was recovering at home, reportedly suffered unforeseen complications, and died.
He was 62.
The news came as a shock to Tindall’s family, friends, and members of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project (a special effort of the National Newspaper Publishers Association), which has been working hard to build national support for individual pardons of innocence to Tindall, and the other nine civil rights activists.
Led by Rev. Benjamin Chavis, the nine African-American males – ages 17 – 24 – and one white female, 34, were falsely convicted of conspiracy 40 years ago in the February 1971 firebombing of a white-owned grocery store, amid heightened racial tensions about school desegregation in Wilmington, NC.
The Wilmington Ten were sentenced to a total 282 years in prison, and served some of that time until Amnesty International; CBS’ “60 Minutes”; the US Justice Dept., and fifty-five members of Congress, all investigated, declaring the convictions were fraudulent.
All three of the state’s prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony, revealing that they had been paid to lie. And in December 1980, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to overturn all ten convictions.
But the state of North Carolina refused to follow the federal courts, and to this day, has not cleared the names of Connie Tindall, Anne Shepard, Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright – all of whom have deceased – James “Bun” McKoy. Marvin Patrick, Reginald Epps, Willie Earl Vereen, Wayne Moore and Dr. Benjamin Chavis.
The whole ordeal took its toll on Tindall and the rest of the ten. Their futures shattered, many found themselves rejected and ostracized by the very community they fought for.
In that exclusive interview with the Wilmington Journal last May, Tindall said he made it through the four-and-a-half years in prison he spent by knowing that one day he would be “vindicated” and proven innocent of the trumped up charges.
“It’s the scar that doesn’t show, but you’ve got to wear it,” Tindall said about how he has lived day-to-day ever since leaving prison over 30 years ago. “But I don’t wear it with my head hung down. I wear it with my head held high, because everything [that happened] was meant to destroy me. But here I am…looking at you…laughing!”
The federal courts indeed deemed Connie Tindall innocent; but now that he’s gone, he’ll never see the day that his home state clears his name.
In reaction to Tindall’s death, one Wilmington Ten member said he believe that Tindall, “died way too soon from poverty and deprivation, brought on by the stigma and psychological burden he carried for years after being tried and convicted for crimes he never committed.”
Another Wilmington Ten member, Reginald Epps, said, “He will be missed.”
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, and strong supporter of the Pardons of Innocence Project, paid tribute to Tindall, saying, “In Latin, the name “Connie” means steadfast. As our brother not only lived out his name, but let us do likewise as we fight for truth and justice.”
Attorney Irving Joyner, law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, and co-chair of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, said he was “deeply distressed” by Connie Tindall’s passing.
“He was always so strong and on point with everything. He was a joy to be around, and had a great sense of humor, even though he was passionate about the plight of the Wilmington Ten,” attorney Joyner said, joining others in sending prayers and thoughts to the Tindall family.
“Long live the spirit and memory of Connie Tindall,” Dr. Benjamin Chavis said in reaction. “God bless the Tindall family. Rest in Peace, Connie.”
Funeral services for Connie Tindall will be conducted Friday, August 10, starting at 12 noon at Union Missionary Baptist Church, 2711 Princess Place Drive in Wilmington.
A wake for family, friends and supporters has been scheduled for Thursday evening, August 9, from 6 – 8 p.m. at Davis Funeral Home, 901 S. Fifth Ave. in Wilmington.
Tindall had no life insurance. Because he was falsely convicted of a felony 40 years ago, getting insurance would be prohibitive at best, and more expensive than standard rates.
The community, led by Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, publisher of The Wilmington Journal, is doing what it can to ensure a proper burial. A contribution fund has been setup to help with the costs of the service and burial.
The family asks that checks be made out to THE CONNIE TINDALL FUND, c/o FIRST CITIZENS BANK, P.O. BOX 1619 WILMINGTON, NC, 28402. Contributions to the fund can be dropped off at any First Citizens Bank branch.