On the last day of her term, outgoing North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue (D) granted a full pardon for ten activists who were convicted of firebombing a grocery store in 1972 as part of a civil rights protest. The group, known as the “Wilmington 10,” were comprised of nine black men and one white woman who served a combined 282 years in prison. Only six of the Wilmington 10 are alive today.
In her statement issuing the pardon, Governor Perdue said “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. … 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.”
Benjamin Chavis, one of the Wilmington 10 and former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told the Wall Street Journal, “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but for 40 years, we’ve struggled to prove our innocence. … Finally, everything showed that we were framed up.” He hopes that the pardon will draw attention to changes that still need to be made. “Some people think we’re in a post-civil-rights era, but I disagree with that,” he said. “We still have a lot to do.”