The National Newspaper Publishers Association recently announced that it would be starting a campaign to secure a “Pardon of Innocence” for the members of the Wilmington 10 during Black Press Week. The pardon would come in the form of an official document signed by North Carolina's governor acknowledging that the person's crimes have been pardoned by the state.
"We are going to tell the story of the Wilmington 10. And we think it is incumbent for us to fight for a pardon for those 10 people...justice to this day has not been served," said NNPA chair, Danny J. Blakewell Sr.
In February 1971, nine Black men and one white woman were convicted of arson and conspiracy stemming from the firebombing of a white-owned store in Wilmington, North Carolina. Angered at the slow progress of desegregation in Wilmington schools, students staged a boycott of the school system. Dispatched by the United Church of Christ to lead the student boycotts, a young Rev. Benjamin Chavis was part of the group sentenced to a combined 282 years in prison.
Chavis recalled a harrowing prison experience including becoming the target of a prison hit after being falsely imprisoned for nearly a decade: “I was warned not to go into the shower,” he told the Weekly Challenger. “I couldn’t take a bath for eight months.”
The first group of prison inmates to be declared political prisoners by Amnesty International, the Wilmington 10's sentence was overturned in 1980. A federal appeals court found that the groups’ constitutional rights had been violated.
While the NNPA has not yet formally announced its campaign plans, Dr. Chavis welcomed the campaign, but asked that the NNPA use the campaign to educate and revitalize the Black community.
“I want the black community to step up,” he told the Weekly Challenger. “We have to pay for our own freedom.… We also have to reach into our pockets.”