Gov. Beverly Perdue pardoned the Wilmington 10 Monday, ending one of the longest and most controversial civil rights cases in Wilmington history.
The move could lead to compensation for members of the group. Two of the surviving members said Monday they would seek compensation from the state.
In a news release, the outgoing governor stated that “justice demands that this stain finally be removed” from the state’s history.
On Oct. 17, 1972, nine young black men and a white woman were convicted in a Burgaw courtroom for the 1971 firebombing of a Wilmington grocery store. The Wilmington 10 were sentenced to 282 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to firebomb Mike’s Grocery and conspiracy to assault emergency personnel who responded to the fire.
Supporters saw them as political prisoners, framed by a racist and unjust judicial system. The three key witnesses in the case later recanted their testimony. Francine DeCoursey, a local filmmaker, is working on a documentary about the Wilmington 10. She said each member had an alibi for the day in question, if only they were checked out.
“These men were only guilty of being black, and taking a stand for justice at a time when that was not popular in the Deep South,” DeCoursey said.
One of the turning points in the fight for a pardon came during a November news conference in Raleigh. The NAACP displayed jury selection notes from the trial. In those notes, potential jurors are labeled with phrases such as “possibly KKK good” and “knows; sensible; Uncle Tom type.” Advocates for the Wilmington 10 argued that the notes show that the prosecution tried to seat a racially biased jury.
Perdue’s pardon means the state no longer thinks the 10 committed a crime.
now the surviving members are going to seek compensation from the state, which they probably should considering that they were railroaded in the 70s and finally declared innocent in 2012.