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October 17, 1978 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1978-10-17

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Page 4-Tuesday, October 17, 1978-The Michigan Daily

Political risoners.:




By Ken Parsigian

BEN CHAVIS has spent most of the last
few years in relative obscurity in a North
Carolina prison. This summer, however, U.N.
Ambassador Andrew Young commented that
there are political prisoners in the U.S., and
suddenly the nation focused on Rev. Ben
Chavis and the case of the Wilmington 10.
Last month, Amnesty International
corraborated Young's remarks by printing a
list oF 10 political prisoners in the U.S.-Chavis
was number one.
Patriotic Americans responded to these
charges with righteous indignation, and
chauvinistic Senators called for Young's
dismissal. The term "political prisoner" was
totally inappropriate to describe anyone in an
American jail, they contended. But the facts of
the Wilmington 10 incident, and the incar-
ceration of Chavis drove otherwise.
* * *'- *
Wilmington, North Carolina, like so many
other southern cities, slept through the civil
rights movement of the 60s. In early 1971,
Wilmington was rife with racial prejudice, as
evidenced by the public outcry over the forced
integration of their schools in 1969-15 years af-

armed themselves, and were returning the
vigilantes' fire. By February 8, the situation
had blossomed into a riot. Fire-bombings,
lootings, and snipings were all factors in the
melee. Finally, the National Guard was called
in to-strom the church, and the students were
taken into custody: Meanwhile, Chavis had
become the recipient of rabid death threats, so
he fled to Raleigh, N.C. to continue his work in
exile-but not for long.
One month later, Chavis, eigh$ teen-aged
blacks, and a white VISTA volunteer were in-
dicted on charges of conspiracy and firebom-
bing a white-owned grocery around the corner
from Templeton's church. Local officials
acknowledged that they could not expect a fair
trial in Wilmington, and granted a change of
venue to neighboring Pender County, which is
predominately black. The jury consisted of 10
blacks and two whites. Before the trial could
begin, however, prosecutor Jay Stroud an-
nounced he was ill, whereupon the judge
declared a mistrial because there were no
other prosecutors sufficiently familiar with the
case to try it. The jury for the new trial was
comprised of 10 whites and two blacks-this

In early 1971, Wilmington was rife with racial prejudice,
as evidenced by the public outcry over the forced integration of
their schools in 1969-15 years after the Brown v. Board of
Education desegregation ruling.

ter the Brown v. Board of Education
desegregation ruling. But though most white
citizens felt they had already given the blacks
too much, a group of eight black students was
still unsatisfied. When their complaints to the
principal and the school board were ignored,
they staged a peaceful sit-in to publicize their
demands which included: a school-wide
program to celbrate Martin Luther King's bir-
thday (the school had such special programs in
honor of famous whites, especially past
presidents); some black studies courses (the
school had none); more black teachers (there
was only one at the time); and protection from
threats and harassment from white students
and faculty membes.
The students were summarily suspended
from school indefinitely, which sparked a
violent reaction from the local black com-
munity. Seventy-five black students dropped
out of school in protest, and took refuge in a
Baptist church run by white Rev. Eugene
Templeton. Enraged bands of white vigilantes
roamed the streets, firing shots into the church
and randomly at local blacks. Threats of more
serious violence followed, especially directed
at Templeton.
Afraid for their lives, local blacks turned to
Templeton for guidance and help. He asked
Wilmington Mayor Luther Cromartie to impose
a general curfew-Cromartie refused. Tem-
pleton then asked Rev. Ben Chavis, of Charlot-
te, to come to Wilmington to take control of the
situation. Chavis had built up a reputation in
North Carolina for being able to cool down even
the most heated racial confrontation.
Chavis arrived on February 2, and im-
mediately organized a group of 1500 blacks to
march to City Hall to demand the curfew, and
protection from the harassment of vigilantes.
By this time, the students in the church had

time the prosecutor remained healthy.
Though the judge allowed the prosecution
over 40 challenges of jurors (all, coinciden-
tally, black), the defense was not permitted to
interview prospective jurors as to racial
biases; moreover, membership in the Ku Klux
Klan was not deemed sufficient reason for
dismissal of a potential juror.
Prosecution witnesses included a man who
had himself been indicted for his part in the
rioting, a black teenager who claimed to have
overheard Chavis order a group to bomb the
grocery store, and another teenager charged in
the incident. The trial h.sted two months, and
the jury needed little deliberation to return a
guilty verdict. Chavis was sentenced to 34
years in prison, while his nine co-defendants
received sentences ranging from 22-29 years.
The'verdict was appealed to the North Carolina
District Court, while bond was posted at $50,000
for each convict. The appeal was denied, and
the Wilmington 10 began serving their senten-
ces in 1974. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to
review the case in 1976, ad did the North
Carolina Appellate Court in January 1978.
T O UNDERSTAND the furor that arose
over the convictions, we need to examine
North Carolina's treatment of Chavis and
other civil rights leaders in the early 70s. There
is, for example, overwhelming evidence that
the police had been determined to jail Chavis.
His record alone is chilling testimony of the
police haiassment he has endured. In North
Carolina, from 1970-1972 he was charged as.
*trespassing, case dismissed;
" driving with a faulty signal light, case
" driving an unregistered vehicle, case dis-

. running a stop light, case dismissed;
" failing to show registration, case
" disrupting a public school, case dismissed;
" assault on a police officer, not guilty;
" being an accessory after the fact of mur-
der, not guilty;
* aiding and abetting federal fugitives, not
* possession and manufacture of firearms,
' not guilty.
On Jujly 4, 1974 Rev. Ralph Abernathy said
North Carolina had become "one of the most, if
not the most repressive states in the nation." In
view of the treatment of Chavis it is difficult to
disagree. This sort of repression of blacks,
especially 'civil rights activists, was not un-
common in North Carolina. Another good
example is the case of Dr. James Grant.
Grant and Chavis, who became known a the
Raleigh Two, were charged with aiding and
abetting two federal fugitives in 1972. Chavis
was acquitted, but Grant was sentenced to 10
years in prison owing to the testimony of the
prosecution's only witnesses-the two fugitives
themselves. Two months later, Grant was
charged with burning a barn and killing 15 hor-
ses. He was convicted again on the testimony of
the same two fugitives. Alough the witnesses,
prosecutors, and federal officials all denied
that the fugitives had been promised immunity
or given any financial assistance by the state,
the Charlotte Observer later proved the con-
trary. In 1973, officials confirmed that the wit-
nesses had been granted immunity from all
charges and were supported for a year by the
state. Yet Grant, like Chavis, remains in
Even the actions of the police are tame when
compared to the behavior of the prosecutor in
the Wilmington 10 case. During the trial,
Prosecutor Jay Stroud. clearly exhibited his
racial bias by persistently referring t Chavis
as a "nigra," and as that "black
troublemakers." Stroud would frequently
launch into long, personal attacks of Chavis,
and once went so far as to compare him to
Adolph Hitler; the sympathetic judge allowed
all such comments.
Even more disturbing injustices in the case
were revealed after the trial. In November,
1976, the Greensboro (N.C.) Daily News repor-
ted that the N.C. Good Neighbor Council (now
the Human Relations Council) once had recor-
ds that would have exonerated Chavis. Those
records, and members of the council who were
in Wilmington in 1972, were subpoenaed for the
trial, but the council members resited; they
feared reprisals from the state legislature
which funded the council. Thus, neither the
members nor the records appeared at the trial.
Five years later, Ron Inge, director of the
Human Relations Council told the Daily News
that the records in question were missing from
the agency's files. When the story appeared in
print, Inge was summarily fired.
UST PRIOR to this incident, however,
there was an even bigger break in the
case. The prosecution's star witness, 23-year-
old Allen Hall, recanted his testimony,
claiming he was pressured by the prosecution.
He said Stroud told him he would "go to jail for
the rest of his life" if he didn't testify about
Chavis. Hall also claimed Stroud told him that
Chavis had threatened his family. Hall ex-
plained that he was promised leniency on his
own charges of burglary if he would do the
prosecution's bidding.
This information, added to the fact that Hall
was certified by the state as mentally han-
dicapped with an IQ of just 78, completely
destroyed the credibility of his original dam-
ning testimony; he was the only witness who
said he actually saw Chavis fire bomb the
In February, 1977, another prosecution wit-
ness-17-year-old Eric Junious-also recanted
his story. He said he was given a minibike and
a job at a service station for his testimony.
Two weeks later, Jerome Mitchell, a young
black felon, also said he had lied in testifying
against the Wilmington Ten, and that he would
be willing to so testify were a new trial granted.
Speaking to Stroud by phone, he defended the
state's and his handling of the case.

"I did not tell the grand jury (there was a
grand jury inquest into the case) about the fact
that I had Hall's girlfirned transported from
the other side of the state to his motel during
the trial, and I did cheat a bit in telling the
grand jury about my summation in the original
trial, but that's all. I never tried to badger or
coerce Hall into testifying against them, and I
never promised him leniency."
About Junious, Stroud said:
"Sure I gave him the minibike, and I helped
him get a job, too, but it wasn't because he
testified against Chavis. I had a real feeling for
the boy; I liked him and I wanted to help out."
But the most startling new evidence was
provided the next month by Rev. Templeton.
Now residing in Morristown, N.J., Templeton
stated publically that Chavis and four other
defendants were with him and social worker
Patricia Rhodes in his home adjacent to the
church when the grocery was burned. Rhodes
confirmed the story the next day.
Recently, Templeton explained:
"He (Chavis) and four others, were at my
home when Mike's grocery was burned. I wan-
ted to testify, but there were so many threats
against mine and my wife's life that we fled
and kept quiet." He would offer no explanation
of why he waited so long to speak up.


: . ,
.... . ,

Carolina Assistant Attorney General Richard
League pointed out that without Hall's
testimony the state would have no case against
Chavis. Even though Hall has recently recan-
ted his recantation, his credibility as a witness
is nil.
Still, Attorney General Rufus Edmisten was
"There have been a lot of unsupported
allegations tossed around, and they have given
this state a bad name," he said late last year.
"This is unjust, because irrespective of the
recantations, the Wilmington 10 received a
fair, honest trial in 1971."
But as pressure mounted on a national scale,
the state appelate court finally agreed to hold a
post trial hearing to deters ine whether or not
the new evidence was sufficient to warrant a
new trial. At that.hearing, Templeton testified
that Chavis was with him when the fire broke
out; Hall said he had been coerced and tricked
into perjuing himself, and that he had never

Protesters have sough a presidential pardon
a congressional inquiry, but so far their effort
have been fruitless. However, the added su
port of Andrew Young and Amnesty Inter
national, in additon to growing international
protest against the injustice in 'Wilmington
have given the movement and the prisoners
new hope.
But a presidential pardon will not begin to
repay the years the Wilmington 10 have spent
in prison, and it will not protect others fro
suffering the same fate. Nor will it hide th
glaring hypocrisy and self-righteousness o
Carter's human rights stand. Ben ChaVis was,
meliorist, and he paid for his belief. He went to
Wilmington because he was asked to help, and
he was jailed because whites were afraid of
him, afraid he might help blacks achieve the
equal status they deserved. The police and
prosecutors tried to stifle his activities for
years, and in Wilmington, with bribed wit-

Eighty-Nine Years of Editorial Freedom.

Vol. No. 35

News Phone: 764-0552

Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan

Chavis was imprisoned not because of what he did, but
because of what he represented and believed.


The U.N. without the U


I N THE LAST few hectic moments
of the 95th Congress, a little
noticed amendment, tacked on the
U.S. State Department
appropriations bill, may prove to be
the downfall of the United Nations.
The amendment stops the payment of
U.S. dues and other regular support
-approximately $200 million - to
the U.N.
The U.S. supplies the major portion
of the U.N.'s operating budget;
without the U.S. the U.N. would
.almost certainly cease to exist.
Officials from the State
Denartment are alarmed about

In response to a question about the
possible disastrous effect his
amendment could have on the U.N.,
Sen. Helms reportedly sad: "Excuse
me while I get a handkerchief and
wipe my eyes."
It is difficult to understand why
Congress would pass a bill with such
a senseless amendment; it is more
surprising that President Carter
signed the bill and the amendment
into law. The President, however, did
sign reluctantly and has asked
Congress to act "promptly" to undo
its damage by rescinding the bill.
President Carter said the

seen Chavis on that fateful night; Mitchell said
he had lied under oath because he had been
promised leniency. Everything pointed to a
new, trial or a dismissal of the case, but the
court ruled that the original decision was justly
Last January, North Carolina Governor
James Hunt shortened all the sentences to 13-17
years, which ments all defendants 'would be
eligible for parole within four years (white
VISTA volunteer Anne Sheppard had already
been paroled. State officials denied charges
that her race was a factor in her early release.
But protesters were rightfully unsatisfied.
-They had hoped Hunt, a young liberal, would
grant the WiImingonnin thienardnn thev dmr.-

nesses, biased jury members, and a sym-
pathetic judge they finally trapped him. Chavis
was imprisoned.not because of what he did, but
because of what he represented and what he
believed. In this respect he is every bit the
political prisoner Anatole Scharanksy is in the
Soviet Union, and Steve Biko was in South
Africa. And until the president, Congress, and
the American public recognize political
repression in our ┬░own country, we will be
unable to affect change in other, more overtly
repressive nations, and the lesson of the
Wilmington 10 will be lost.

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