(The Root) — Forty years after they were wrongfully convicted for firebombing a grocery store in Wilmington, N.C., the civil rights activists who became known as the Wilmington 10 were pardoned by outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue on Monday.
The NAACP had close ties to the case, and not just because its former head, Benjamin Chavis, was among the activists convicted and sentenced to a combined 300 years in prison. The group also organized a petition to Gov. Perdue that received more than 15,000 signatures.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, and the Rev. William Barber II, North Carolina NAACP State Conference president, have issued statements praising the decision.
"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," Jealous said.
"Today the spirit of justice was awakened in the capital of North Carolina," said Barber. "Gov. Beverly Perdue has signed a Pardon of Innocence for nine men and one woman known as 'The Wilmington 10.' These young people were nonviolent protesters fighting for educational equality. They were framed, wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in connection to a fire bombing in Wilmington, N.C., over 40 years ago. These unjust convictions were due to racist manipulation of the court system and extraordinary and blatant racially motivated prosecutorial misconduct. A federal court overturned these convictions over 30 years ago, but until today, North Carolina had fallen short. In the last few days of her governorship, Gov. Perdue has walked us into a season of epiphany."