Instead of spending their sunny Saturday afternoons outside, community members gathered at the United Church of Chapel Hill for a screening of the 2014 documentary “Pardons of Innocence: The Wilmington Ten.”
Co-sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill’s Justice in Action committee, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the Orange Organizing Against Racism Alliance, the event featured a showing of the film and a discussion panel with filmmaker Cash Michaels and Irving Joyner, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University.
The story of the "Wilmington Ten" follows 10 civil rights activists – eight African-American high school students, an African-American minister and a white social worker – who were wrongfully convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1971 following school boycotts to protest unfair treatment in integrated schools.
Together, the Wilmington Ten were sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. Following their incarceration, the case gained international legal attention as key witnesses in the case recanted their testimonies.
The cases were ultimately overturned on a legal technicality in 1980 by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2012, North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue officially pardoned the Wilmington Ten.