Monday, January 28, 2013

SOME NOTES OF HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE ON THE WILMINGTON TEN CASE


 By Frank Chapman
National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

We have organized, participated in and will celebrate at this Conference two major victories won this past year: the release and vindication of our national co-chairperson Rev. Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten and George Merritt, member of our national board. While we celebrate these victories we are keenly aware of the continued attempts to stifle dissent, to silence every activist in the movements for equality, peace, freedom and solidarity with other peoples. Such dangers are represented by our government's continued prosecution of courageous peace activist David Truong

These threats are also confronted daily by our numerous organizational efforts: the fight for Johnny Imani Harris' release from death row, only miles from Birmingham; the struggle to free Native American activist Leonard Peltier; stopping the mass murder vis-a-vis the death penalty planned for the Pontiac brothers; abolishing the behavior control unit and the brutal persecution of prisoners at Marion, Illinois; and at a thousand other hell-holes from Santa Fe to Leavenworth to MacAlister, Soledad and Parchman. Our Conference will address this continuing barbarism and seek to redress it."

 The above statement was taken from the Call for our Sixth National Conference of The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression held in Birmingham, Alabama in 1981.

WHO WERE THE WILMINGTON TEN
The Wilmington Ten were Rev. Ben Chavis, nine young men who were still in high school and a white woman who were convicted in 1971 of  arson and conspiracy. The NAARPR took the case of the Wilmington Ten up at its founding convention and subsequently launched a national and international campaign making it a cause célèbre.

HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT
The 1970s, coming in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, was the beginning of what became known as the backlash against gains of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The government’s response to the ghetto uprisings (called race riots) that occurred on the eve of King’s assassination and afterwards was punitive, violent and repressive.

In 1969, just a year after the murder of Dr. King and the riots, there was an attempt to integrate the high schools of Wilmington, N.C. The city used this attempted integration as a pretext for closing Williston High School, the pride of the African American community. Black teachers and coaches were laid off and students transferred. The school administrators refused to meet with parents and students. There were no preparations for these abrupt changes. Tensions sprouted up giving rise to clashes between white and black students. There followed arrests and expulsions.

In an effort to exploit these racial tensions the KKK and other white supremacists began patrolling the streets in an attempt to intimidate and terrorize African Americans. Consequently street violence broke out between the Klan and African American men. Also students decided to boycott the high schools. This occurred in January, 1971.

In Feb., 1971 the United Church of Christ sent Rev. Ben Chavis, director of their Commission for Racial Justice, to Wilmington, N.C. to ease tensions and work with students and the community for a peaceful and just solution.

Rev. Ben Chavis advocated non-violence in the manner of the late Dr. King; and upon arriving he immediately proceeded to organize the students and the community. There were regular meetings with discussions on the history of African American freedom struggles and the need to organize a boycott.

Within a week (on Feb. 7, 1971) Mike’s Grocery, a white owned business, was fire-bombed and the responding firefighters claimed they were shot at by snipers. Rev. Chavis and the students were peacefully assembled at the Church. A riot broke out in the community, lasting ‘til the next day and claiming the lives of two people.

On Feb. 8, 1971 the Governor Robert Scott called out the National Guard. They forced their way into the Church, alleging that they found ammunition.

At the end of the day there were two deaths, six injuries and $500,000 in property damages. Rev. Ben Chavis, eight young African American men, who were high school students, and a white woman who was an anti-poverty worker, were arrested and charged with arson. Based on the false testimony of two black men, the Wilmington Ten were tried, convicted and sentenced to a total of 282 years.   One witness said he was given a mini bike in exchange for his testimony. The other witness had a history of mental illness.
    
TABLE OF SENTENCES
Name                                       Age                             Sentence
Rev. Ben Chavis                     24                                34 years
Connie Tindall                        21                                31 years
James “Bun” McKay              19                                29 years
Wayne More                           19                                29 years
Melvin “Chili” Patrick            19                                29 years
Reginald Epps                         18                                28 years
Jerry Jacobs                             19                                29 years
Name                                       Age                             Sentence
Willie Earl Vereen                   18                                29 years
William “Joe” Wright              19                                29 years
Ann Shepard                           36                                15 years


HIGHLIGHTS OF NAARPR CAMPAIGN TO FREE THE WILMINGTON TEN
The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression mobilized tens of thousands in protest through nationwide rallies and demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Oakland, Louisville, St. Louis, Newark, Pittsburg, and throughout the state of North Carolina culminating in a national mass demonstration in Raleigh, N.C. in 1976.

From 1977-80 we collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions to Free the Wilmington Ten directed to Governor James B. Hunt. These petitions were signed by people in the United States and throughout the world. We were supported by trade union organizations, parliamentarians, supreme courts justices, writers, artists, students, people from all walks of life throughout Europe, India, China, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba, Canada and South Africa.

In 1978 the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the National Conference of Black Lawyers filed a petition with the United Nations Human Rights Commission charging the U.S. Government with Human Rights violations in the cases of the Wilmington Ten, Leonard Peltier, Johnny Imani Harris, Geronimo Pratt and many other political prisoners.

When President Jimmy Carter visited the Soviet Union in 1978 he was reminded by Soviet leaders of the human rights violations in the Wilmington Ten case.

In 1980, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court, overturned the convictions, as it determined that (1) the prosecutor failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, in violation of the defendants' due process rights [the Brady rule]; and (2) the trial judge erred by limiting the cross-examination of key prosecution witnesses about special treatment the witnesses received in connection with their testimony, in violation of the defendants' 6th Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them. Chavis v. State of North Carolina, 637 F.2d 213 (4th Cir. 1980).

 A LUTA CONTINUA (THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES)
We adopted the slogan A Luta Continua from our sisters and brothers who led the revolution in Angola against the then Portuguese colonial government. Today more than ever we need to invoke this slogan and inscribe it on our banners as we did in 1973.

The National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression was founded in the city of Chicago 39 years ago. Our formation came in the wake of the movement to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners and was truly a watershed moment in the history of the democratic struggles of the masses of our people for labor rights, human rights and peace. We also felt an urgent need to respond to the planned destruction of our movement by the FBI and CIA through their counter intelligence program known a COINTELPRO.  We came about as a result of the particular need of our movement to defend itself against the racist and political repression used by the local, state and federal governments to stymie and destroy us. We came together in the light of our deep and abiding concern for the democratic rights and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the American people. We came together because we realized that government at the local, state and federal level was being used to contain and eliminate any and everyone challenging the status quo. Our mission was clearly to defend and extend the democratic rights of the people.

The recent pardon of the Wilmington Ten by the outgoing Governor of North Carolina is a living testament to the fact that mass, organized struggles can be victorious in the fight against racist and political repression. The NAACP played a decisive and heroic role in waging a successful campaign for the pardon of the Wilmington Ten. They delivered the final blow for justice in this case.

Today as we approach our fortieth anniversary our movement faces new dangers and historically unprecedented attacks against democracy. That is why the struggle must continue. Yesterday it was the Wilmington Ten, today its Mumia abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Howard Morgan, victim of attempted murder by Chicago Police (shot 28 times), serving 40 years in prison falsely convicted ,  the torture victims: William Atkins, Terrance Brooks, Benson Carter, Sherone Griffin, Leonard Hinton, Delandis Adams, Johnnie Plummer, Carlos Santos, Gerald Reed, Rayshawn Hudgins , and countless others who are in prison due to racist frame-ups and wrongful convictions. 
   





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