WORSHIP SERVICE FOR WILMINGTON TEN SATURDAY
The North Carolina NAACP, in association with the New Hanover NAACP, and the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, is sponsoring an historic Ecumenical Celebration of the Pardon of Innocence for the Wilmington 10, Saturday, January 5, 2013, at 2:00 pm at Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ, 609 Nun Street and Seventh Street in Wilmington.
At this event, the Certificates of Pardon, signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue, will be formally bestowed upon surviving members of the Wilmington Ten, and family members of the four deceased members.
The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber Jr., president of the North Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches, will preside.
This historic service is open to the public.
PARDON OPPONENTS TRIED
TO STOP PERDUE
By Cash Michaels
Right up to the deadline when she was to decide whether or not to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten on Monday, Gov. Beverly Perdue, in an exclusive interview Wednesday with The Carolinian Newspaper, confirmed that those who were convinced that the Ten were “guilty of something” tried to stop her.
“There were those that said that a late as Sunday afternoon before I made the ultimate decision on Monday,” Perdue, who officially steps down from one-term in office Jan. 5th, told The Carolinian.
“It was a hardly discussed decision. I sought the opinions and the advice of many, many people - the folks who were for pardons of innocence, may of the advocacy groups who were so powerful. I also spoke to many of North Carolina’s leading jurists, and talked to people of all persuasions, and interestingly enough, there will always be, as there are in many cases, those who think one should never rethink the outcome of a jury trial. And I actually believe that because of what we’ve seen happen in North Carolina this decade, not from the ‘70’s.”
“In some cases, justice is not the fair barometer of the court system we would hope.”
Perdue maintains, after studying the case of the falsely accused ten civil rights activists, that granting them all ten individual pardons of innocence from their 1972 convictions, “Was the right thing to do.”
“I spent six or seven months, off and on, picking up the documents, and reading about the testimony, and the circumstances, if you will, of the time when the Wilmington Ten were prosecuted and convicted,” Perdue said.
“That era of North Carolina was a hard one, one that was shameful in my mind. There was just rampant racism, there was a reluctance to embrace folks of all backgrounds and all ethnicities and all races.”
“It wasn’t a North Carolina that looks anything at all like our North Carolina today,” Perdue said.
“I believe the Wilmington Ten were victims of the times, and victims of a deep-seeded prejudice and racism that circumvented any kind of likelihood that their trial was fair.”
The governor continued, “ That, for me, was the ultimate testing ground for the righteousness of our justice system. It’s what we all believe in. If you’re going to be prosecuted and convicted, it should be done in a fair and equitable way – where justice will literally mean justice.”
Members of the Wilmington Ten, and civil rights leadership across the nation, have hailed Gov. Perdue for her courage, not only in the Wilmington Ten pardons, but also her advocacy for victims of forced sterilization, signing the 2009 NC Racial Justice Act, vetoing the Legislature’s voter ID law, and pushing hard to improve education for poor children statewide.
SPECIAL NOTE - Because of historic Wilmington Ten pardons coverage, no Triangle or State briefs this week.
Also, i'm awaiting a call from the Governor. As soon as I get it, that will be the last story.
For The Carolinian, i'd like to 2 COLUMN grey box the Governor's statement on the front, to run along with the story. I'd also like the statement from the Pardons Project to at least be on page 2 in a grey box as well.
The John Davis photo of Connie Tindall's sister holding his picture could be page 1 bottomfold.
Paul, we rarely four column a picture on the front, but I think the historic nature of this story warrants it. And as for a top headline, i'll let you and Mr. b handle that, but it has to have punch!
As soon as I get the governor's interview, i'll turn it around.
NNPA STORIES -
STATEMENT BY THE NNPA'S WILMINGTON TEN PARDONS OF INNOCENCE PROJECT ABOUT GOV. PERDUE’S PARDONING OF THE WILMINGTON TEN
On behalf of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project – a justice outreach effort of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Wilmington Journal newspaper – we are all very proud of North Carolina today, and extraordinarily grateful to our Governor, Beverly Perdue, for having the tremendous courage and wisdom to grant all members of the Wilmington Ten, pardons of actual innocence.
Gov. Perdue’s historic action today doesn’t remove the past forty years of injustice against ten innocent American citizens – North Carolinians who stood up for equal treatment under the law in our public education system. But it does correct the historical record, that Connie Tindall, Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright, Anne Sheppard, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, Reginald Epps and the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, were indeed innocent of all charges falsely assessed to them by a corrupt prosecutor who, to this day, has not answered for what he did.
We sincerely hope that now, at long last, a certain peace can be restored to the shattered lives of the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten, and to the family members Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright, Anne Sheppard and Connie Tindall all of whom are deceased.
And we also hope, and pray, that the state of North Carolina, and the nation, have learned from this great tragedy of racial injustice. If America is to live up to the true meaning of its creed, that all men and women are created equal before the eyes of GOD, then we must fight, and fight hard for the integrity of our criminal justice system.
For if we don’t, then none of us are safe from those who would seek to destroy the fundamental liberties of citizens who work only to make this nation the land of promise and freedom that many before us sacrificed so much for future generations to enjoy.
On behalf of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and the NNPA, thank you to the NAACP, Change.org, and all who assisted us in this vital quest for justice.
BITTERSWEET - Ms. Ophelia Tindall-Dixon, holds up a picture of her late brother, Wilmington Ten member Connie Tindall, during press conference Monday after Gov. Perdue granted pardons of innocence. Ms. Dixon said she wished her brother had lived to see it [John Davis photo]
CASH IN THE APPLE
By Cash Michaels
HISTORY IS MADE – It was around 1:45 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31st, the last day of the 2012.
I, like many others with the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, had been waiting since early that morning for Governor Beverly Perdue to announce her decision about possibly granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten, the cause that so many of us had worked so hard for, for the past seven months.
We had been thrown a curve a few days earlier. During the Thursday, Dec. 27th taping of the WRAL-TV public affairs program, “On the Record,” Gov. Perdue, in reference to what she may decide about the pardons before she left office January 5th, told WRAL-TV reporter Laura Leslie:
"There's nobody in America – I don't believe there's anybody in the judicial system in the world – who could say that trial was fair or that there wasn't some kind of undercurrent or overt racism involved in the jury selection," she said. "I don't know if that necessarily makes them innocent. I don't know that, but I do know it's weighed heavily on my heart."
The governor’s statement was shocking because, until then, neither she nor her staff had uttered a word about the pending pardon, other than it was still a pending pardon, which is what they are supposed to do.
So these explicit remarks were very much a surprise to all of us.
But the part about not knowing whether the racial corruption of the Wilmington Ten prosecutor indeed meant that they were innocent of the charges they were ultimately convicted of, had really alarmed us. We weren’t sure why that would be said at all, and because it was coming from the lips of the governor – the one person on the face of the Earth who could make the pardon decision – it alarmed us even more.
We had been hearing through our sources close to the governor that there were powerful people doing their best to steer her away from pardons at all. Some of these were old hands in state government who, for some reason, relished in the fact that the Wilmington Ten were made to suffer because they somehow represented a kind of militancy that the power structure would not tolerate back in 1971, and had no stomach for now.
They are the reason why the Pardon Project poured on the juice with our successful petition campaigns with Change.org and the NAACP.
It wasn’t long before we were hearing that because of our activism, and because of our uncovering the now infamous Stroud files – which clearly documented the sordid, racist shenanigans of prosecutor Jay Stroud in framing the Wilmington Ten – these forces were now telling the governor that the Wilmington Ten were certainly guilty of something, so instead of risking her credibility, why not grant pardons of forgiveness instead of pardons of innocence.
So hearing the governor say that she didn’t know whether the Wilmington Ten were innocent or not, seemed to play right into that mindset, and it frightened us that that’s what she would ultimately do.
We couldn’t understand why, after seeing how Jay Stroud had so corrupted the criminal justice system to frame the Wilmington ten, anyone could believe that they would be guilty of ANY crime? If good prosecutors have the evidence of guilt, then, per our system of justice, they are supposed to present it to jury, and await a verdict.
What we were hearing, we thought, was that no matter what was done to them, the Wilmington Ten were not innocent until proven guilty, but guilty until they proved themselves innocent.
We made clear in press statements prior to the governor’s decision that could not be the standard. There was no credible evidence of any guilt, or any crime by any Wilmington Ten today, or forty years ago. That was the standard we also expected from the governor.
So early Monday morning, I woke up with a knot in my stomach. I hate not knowing what is going to happen, especially when it deeply affects other people’s lives.
In this case, six surviving members of the Wilmington Ten, and the family members of the four deceased members. They had all been through forty years of hell and heartache. I couldn’t bear for them to have come so close, closer than at anytime since their unjust convictions in 1972, only to fall short because there were still those who believed that our criminal justice system was a tool used solely to punish perceived political adversaries.
As my wife and daughter did their thing elsewhere in the house, I stayed by my computer in the bedroom, monitoring my latest emails, hoping to see something from the governor’s office about either a press conference (unlikely), or an announcement of the governor’s decision.
I knew that the governor’s staff had still been working on the issue on Sunday. If it were coming in the morning, I was preparing our team members on the pardon project as to how we were going to respond.
Whichever way it went.
Reporters were already calling me (since I was listed as the project coordinator), asking if I had heard anything from the governor’s office. I asked them to call me in case they hear anything.
I was so hoping that some intrepid legislative reporter would come across a leak, and let the world know. That’s how anxious I was.
But nothing came that morning, until just after 12 noon, when the governor’s office sent out a press advisory about four judicial appointments she made.
I noticed one of the appointments was for Mark Davis, the governor’s General Counsel. It was his job to advise the governor on the Wilmington Ten pardons. We had been told that he was a pretty good guy, and he was always professional in my dealings with him.
But his appointment to the NC Appeals Court told me that his role in advising the governor was definitely over now.
That meant a decision on the Wilmington Ten could come at any minute.
I was not a happy camper as the early afternoon wore on. It had been dark and cloudy all morning, and that didn’t help the mood. Yes I had been praying, and praying and praying…and yes, I had faith that GOD would deliver. The truth was that clear.
But I also realized that I couldn’t fake being concerned. As if I were waiting for the surgeon to come out and tell me how the surgery went for my loved one, I couldn’t hide my concern from anyone.
Then suddenly, just after 1 p.m., a strong, powerful beam of sunlight burst through the clouds, coming through our bedroom window, and landing on the bed beside me. If I had been looking directly into the beam, it would have blinded me.
Instead, the beam of light seemed to comfort me, bring me peace.
Indeed, it seemed to be talking to me.
It made me smile. It reassured me.
It gave me a semblance of peace.
I still wasn’t certain about what would happen, but I all of a sudden felt strengthened to deal with it, whatever it was.
Then at around 1:45 p.m., the phone rang, and the area code was “336,” which is usually from the Greensboro area. I answered it, sure that it was perhaps a Greensboro TV station.
It was the governor’s press secretary, Chris Mackey.
“Cash, the governor would like to speak with you.”
“Sure. Of course,” I recall saying, with the thought that Gov. Perdue was about to not only tell me personally what her decision was, but also felt obligated to explain it to me.
This isn’t going to be good, I thought to myself.
“Cash, how are you?
“I’m fine Governor. Happy New Year to you. I hope you had a good holiday.”
“I did. I wanted to let you know that I will be granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.”
My fat old heart stopped, and my weak old eyes began to water.
Did I hear what I just heard from the governor of this state?
Gov. Perdue went on to tell me how the racist actions of prosecutor Stroud deeply disturbed her, and there really wasn’t any other decision she could make, in the name of justice.
It gets foggy now, but I remember saying, “Thank you, Governor. You are a great governor.”
I put down the phone, and started to walk towards the bedroom door so that I could tell my wife, Markita. Before I got there, the phone rang again. The same “336” area code number.
It was Chris again, asking me to give them 10 to 15 minutes to get the governor’s official announcement out before I tell people.
I agreed, but I also knew that if I didn’t tell my wife, I would explode in tears.
So just as I got to the door to open it, Markita opened it from the living room.
I’m not known to mutter, but when our eyes locked, my eyes watered some more as I said that the governor just called, and she’s going to grant parsons of innocent.
My wife smiled, grabbed me, and held me.
I cried. The happiness was deep and real.
After forty years, the Wilmington Ten had their names and dignity back.
The mighty struggle was over.
After we called my daughter KaLa into the room to tell her, Markita made sure I kept my word to Chris, and not tell anyone on our pardon project team. I really, really wanted to, but all Markita would allow me to do (because she refused to leave my side) was to email our team, telling them that I had just spoken with the governor, but by agreement, I couldn‘t tell them what was said because she would be releasing her statement in ten minutes.
Fifteen minutes later, WRAL-TV broke the news on television, and the governor’s historic announcement was out.
The world now knew what I was first told. No need to advise the team.
I didn’t have the strength, I was so thankful.
For the next hour, I fielded reporters’ phone calls from both Raleigh and Wilmington, looking for reaction. Luckily the team and I had earlier setup Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh, and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington for simultaneous press conferences. Then I did a phone interview with WPTF-AM.
The family and I then went to our Raleigh presser, where there were happy faces and moist eyes just like mine.
After eating dinner, the family went to Watch Night Service at Watts Missionary Baptist Church. I needed badly to hear the Word of GOD, so I could properly put all that had just happened into proper perspective.
At midnight, my family and I welcomed the New Year in. it was now Jan. 1, 2013
December 31st was now history…in more ways than one.
This weekend, the pardon project team and the Wilmington Ten family will all come back together one last time for a worship service in Wilmington, and then a celebration of our great, historic, GOD-given triumph.
And then, after seven long, challenging, but rewarding months, life will return to normal for me.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be a vessel for your good work. I will be forever proud, grateful, and humbled.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Make sure you tune in every Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. for my talk radio show, ''Make It Happen'' on Power 750 WAUG-AM, or online at www.myWAUG.com. And read more about my thoughts and opinions exclusively at my new blog, ‘The Cash Roc” (http://thecashroc.blogspot.com/2011/01/cash-roc-begins.html). I promise it will be interesting.
Cash in the Apple - honored as the Best Column Writing of 2006 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Columnist Cash Michaels was also honored by the NNPA for Best Feature Story Journalist of 2009, and was the recipient of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP’s President’s Award for Media Excellence in Sept. 2011.
Until next week, keep a smile on your face, GOD in your heart, and The Carolinian in your life. Bye, bye.
Gov. Perdue Issues Pardon of Innocence for Wilmington 10
On Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed a
Pardon of Innocence for the Wilmington 10 and issued the following
“I have spent a great deal of time over the past seven months reviewing the pardon of innocence requests of the persons collectively known as the Wilmington Ten. This topic evokes strong opinions from many North Carolinians as it hearkens back to a very difficult time in our state’s past, a period of racial tensions and violence that represents a dark chapter in North Carolina’s history. These cases generate a great deal of emotion from people who lived through these traumatic events.
In evaluating these petitions for clemency, it is important to separate fact from rumor and innuendo. I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained.
In 1980, a federal appeals court overturned the convictions in a written decision that highlighted the gross improprieties that occurred during the trial. The federal court determined as a matter of law that numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct and other constitutional violations took place. Among other things, the court ruled that with regard to the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness – upon whose credibility the case depended entirely -- “the conclusion is inescapable that [he] perjured himself” and that “this fact was bound to be known to the prosecutor . . .” The court also declared that it was undisputed that key documents had repeatedly been withheld from defense lawyers. It also found numerous errors by the trial judge that had the effect of unconstitutionally prejudicing the defendants’ ability to receive a fair trial.
Since the trial ended, the prosecution’s key witness and two supporting witnesses all independently recanted their testimony incriminating the defendants. Furthermore, last month, new evidence was made available to me in the form of handwritten notes from the prosecutor who picked the jury at trial. These notes show with disturbing clarity the dominant role that racism played in jury selection. The notes reveal that certain white jurors believed to be Ku Klux Klan members were described by the prosecutor as “good” and that at least one African American juror was noted to be an “Uncle Tom type.”
This conduct is disgraceful. It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt – not based on race or other forms of prejudice. That did not happen here. Instead, these convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer.
Justice demands that this stain finally be removed. The process in which this case was tried was fundamentally flawed. Therefore, as Governor, I am issuing these pardons of innocence to right this longstanding wrong.”
NC GOVERNOR PARDONS THE WILMINGTON TEN
By Cash Michaels
[RALEIGH, NC] In what civil rights leaders across the nation are calling a “significant” moment in the civil rights movement, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has granted individual pardons of actual innocence to members of the Wilmington Ten.
“I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained,” Perdue, a Democrat who steps down on Jan. 5th, said in her Dec. 31st statement.
“Justice demands that this stain finally be removed. The process in which this case was tried was fundamentally flawed. Therefore, as Governor, I am issuing these pardons of innocence to right this longstanding wrong.”
The Wilmington Ten - nine black males and one white female – were activists who, along with hundreds of black students in the New Hanover County Public School System, protested rampant racial discrimination there in 1971.
In February 1971, after the arrival of Rev. Benjamin Chavis to help lead the protests, racial violence erupted, with white supremacist driving through Wilmington’s black community, fatally shooting people and committing arson.
A white-owned grocery store in the black community was firebombed, and firemen came under sniper fire. It wasn’t until a year later that Rev. Chavis and the others were round up and charged with conspiracy in connection with the firebombing and shootings.
The Ten were falsely convicted, and sentenced to 282 years in prison, some of which they all served.
It wouldn’t be until 1977, after years of failed appeals in North Carolina courts, that the three state’s witnesses all recanted their testimonies, admitting that they perjured themselves.
Amnesty International issued a blistering report declaring the Wilmington Ten “political prisoners of conscience.” The CBS News program “60 Minutes” did a one-hour expose’ proving that the evidence against the Wilmington Ten had been fabricated by the prosecution.
And after then NC Gov. James B. Hunt refused to pardon the Ten, but did commute their sentences in 1978, two years later, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned all of the convictions, based on gross prosecutorial misconduct and various violations of constitutional rights.
The appeals court directed North Carolina to either retry the defendants, or dismiss all charges, but the state did nothing for the past 32 years.
In March 2011, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, at the urging of Wilmington Journal publisher Mary Alice Thatch, voted to pursue pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten. That effort got underway in earnest in January 2012, and after a series of NNPA stories based on an investigation that revealed never-before-seen court records proving prosecutorial corruption, the mainstream media – including The New York Times, The News and Observer, The Wilmington StarNews and MSNBC’s Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry - caught on, and began editorially pushing for pardoning the Wilmington Ten.
Change.org, the NAACP and The Wilmington Journal garnered over 144,000 petition signatures for the cause.
Gov. Perdue’s pardons legally mean that the accused did not commit the crimes they were convicted of.
The governor’s decision was roundly hailed.
“Gov. Perdue’s historic action today doesn’t remove the past forty years of injustice against ten innocent American citizens - North Carolinians who stood up for equal treatment under the law in our public education system,” the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, a justice outreach effort of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the Wilmington Journal newspaper, said in a statement.
“But [the governor’s pardon] does correct the historical record, that Connie Tindall, Jerry Jacobs, William Joe Wright, Anne Sheppard, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, Reginald Epps and the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, were indeed innocent of all charges falsely assessed to them by a corrupt prosecutor who, to this day, has not answered for what he did.”
Governor Perdue agreed that revelations of the racist and illegal trial tactics of Wilmington Ten prosecutor Jay Stroud – which included documented handwritten evidence of seeking “KKK and Uncle Tom-type” jurors; bribing witnesses to commit perjury; hiding exculpatory evidence of a witness’s mental illness from the defense; and deliberately forcing a mistrial so that he could get both the judge and jury that would guarantee convictions – corrupt the criminal justice system, and shamed the state.
Perdue called it “naked racism.”
“This conduct is disgraceful,” the governor said in her statement. “It is utterly incompatible with basic notions of fairness, and with every ideal that North Carolina holds dear. The legitimacy of our criminal justice system hinges on it operating in a fair and equitable manner, with justice being dispensed based on innocence or guilt – not based on race or other forms of prejudice.”
“That did not happen here,” Perdue continued. “Instead, these convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal justice system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer.”
“This is a great day for the people, and the movement,” Dr. Benjamin Chavis, leader of the Wilmington Ten, told the Wilmington Journal Monday. “This is a very rare victory.”
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton agreed.
“It was a significant victory and all of you should be commended,” Sharpton, who pushed the pardon effort on both of his radio programs last weekend, said in congratulations.
National NAACP Pres./CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, the first national civil rights leader to support the cause, was effusive.
“This pardon brings closure to a case marred by racism and injustice,” Jealous said. “I applaud Gov. Beverly Perdue for her leadership in righting this disgraceful wrong and congratulate the NAACP North Carolina State Conference, NAACP members, and activists around the country for their work to raise awareness about this case.”
NC NAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, who partnered with the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence, noted the history.
“Not only will the civil rights and human rights communities honor this act, but history itself will record this day as groundbreaking,” Barber told reporters in Raleigh Monday. “On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Governor Perdue has proclaimed a contemporary emancipation for these freedom fighters.”
“These pardons are not only for North Carolina but also for the nation and for the world,” Barber continued. “We honor the Governor's noble, courageous and righteous decision today and we commend her heart's steadfast commitment to justice.”
For his part, former prosecutor Jay Stroud, who was disbarred in 2008, and has been arrested more than twelve times in the past six years according to the Associated Press, says that Gov. Perdue has “made a mistake.” Though he has admitted that the handwritten notes in the Wilmington Ten prosecution files are his, Stroud is now suggesting that some of them may have been forged.
“…[H]is son told The Gaston Gazette in 2011 that his father suffers from bipolar disease and that [Stroud] was diagnosed about the same time he graduated from law school,” the AP reported.
New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David, who originally found the box containing the Stroud files in a closet at his office, and turned them over to historian Duke Prof. Tim Tyson, also issued a statement.
"As prosecutors, the truth is our only client,” D.A. David wrote. “For guilty defendants, the truth hurts. For the innocent, the truth will set them free.”
“Sometimes the truth remains elusive. Where, as here, the process that was in place to search for the truth is determined to be so fundamentally flawed that we cannot know it, the verdict cannot stand the test of time. My job, as District Attorney, is to make sure that this does not happen again."