WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — This weekend, hundreds of people filled the United Church of Christ on Nun street, a historic location for Wilmington 10 members. The surviving members, families of deceased members of the Wilmington 10, along with supporters across the state celebrated a victory over what they say was a racially charged and wrongful conviction.
“Wilmington was a site, 40 years ago, of tremendous racial strife,” Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis said. “Today, Wilmington is a site of celebration.”
The celebration began with remarks from NAACP members and ended with the distribution of Certificates of Pardon signed by Gov. Bev Perdue earlier in the week.
“It means that we are innocent,” Willie Earl Vereen said. “We did not commit a crime and the world should know this.”
Other members say the pardons mean much more than freedom. The pardons help redefine a tarnished reputation, and they give hope to people facing similar struggles.
“Now people see the Wilmington 10 as young people who heroically stood up for civil rights and for equal justice 40 years ago,” Chavis said. “Anyone that may be currently incarcerated unjustly, what the Governor did for the Wilmington 10 serves as new hope.”
While the activists are relieved that justice has finally been served, Vereen says he still feels paranoid.
“It taught me that the system will lock you up for crimes that you did not commit,” he said.
He says if it happened once, it can happen again.