More than 40 years ago, nine black men and one white woman were wrongly accused, prosecuted and convicted for the firebombing of a white-owned grocery store in a black neighborhood in Wilmington, which was then experiencing racial tensions related to the integration of public schools. The Wilmington 10, as they came to be known, were to spend decades fighting for a recognition of their innocence, a full pardon of innocence, and on Monday they got it.
Gov. Beverly Perdue minced no words in granting the pardon, saying the treatment of the members of the Wilmington 10 was disgraceful and that she was appalled as she read about the case, where prosecutors clearly sought to use race to skew the trial in their favor. Then-Gov. Jim Hunt commuted the sentences given in 1978 but stopped short of a pardon. The convictions were overturned in federal court in 1980, but still the group waited to be cleared.
By now, four members of the group have died and some of the survivors have had hard lives. This case was a heavy burden for the Wilmington 10, and for the state of North Carolina. The pardon should have come long ago, and though it may be hardly adequate for what they went through, the members of the Wilmington 10 now can say that justice has been done.