By Guest Contributor Lamont Lilly
On Dec. 31, outgoing North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue pardoned the Wilmington 10, ending the prolonged national struggle for the 10 activists–nine black, one white–initially convicted in 1972. Perdue was forced to publicly admit that their sentences were “tainted by naked racism,” ending 2012 with justice finally being served for Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Connie Tindall, Marvin Patrick, Wayne Moore, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James McKoy, Willie Earl Vereen, William Wright, Jr., and Ann Shepard.
“We are tremendously grateful to Gov. Perdue for her courage,” said Chavis, the group’s leader. “This is a historic day for North Carolina and the United States. People should be innocent until proven guilty, not persecuted for standing up for equal rights and justice.”
In 1971, racial outbursts in the city of Wilmington shocked the world. The political and social undercurrent of racism and bigotry were still festering in the aftermath of the signing of historic Civil Rights bills in 1964 and 1965. Police had murdered a black teenager, while two white security guards had been killed.
The National Guard was called to patrol the city, to protect its downtown and commercial district from a potential race war. All of the key players were in attendance: the Ku Klux Klan and their local support organization, The Rights of White People, while frustrated Black residents, including youth, towed the progressive side. Anyone who pressed for change and racial solidarity became a threat to social order and the complete reign of white supremacy. Though skin color was the major dividing line, Blacks weren’t the only targets. White allies who were seen as “trying to make integration work” were also targeted by the Klan. White southerner and superintendent of schools Hayward Bellamy was almost lynched to death in front of his family.