It's been a long 40 years of waiting for Willie Vereen and the other nine members of the Wilmington 10.
Only six were living today when Governor Beverly Perdue granted them pardons of innocence after their acquittals in 1980 in connection to the firebombing of a Wilmington grocery store during a race riot here in 1971.
Tonight, on Watch Night, a night of celebration and ringing in the New Year in worship for many congregations, Vereen and the other living members of the Wilmington 10 and their families have an extra reason to celebrate.
At a press conference in the basement of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church on Walnut Street, Vereen spoke of how he felt about the pardon.
“God has prevailed! I feel elated,” Vereen said. “I have feelings of forgiveness for the ones that persecuted us. But I still feel they should be charged and convicted for their crimes of conspiring against us.”
About 20 community members and Wilmington 10 family members attended the press conference. Audience members asked why there hasn't been more in-depth media coverage of the Wilmington 10 case. Others asked why it took so long to pardon the Wilmington 10, when they were acquitted in 1980 after evidence of jury and witness tampering was revealed.
“I think many did not want to touch it because they wanted the verdict to stay as is for fear that somebody's reputation may be tainted. But thank the Lord for Beverly Perdue. I think in the end the whole image of North Carolina will change,” said Mary Alice Thatch, the publisher of The Wilmington Journal. She was a co-chair of The Wilmington 10 Pardon of Innocence Project, which garnered more than 142,000 petition signatures for the pardons sent to Perdue's office. “This was not just a black and white issue. This was an issue about justice and race.”
After the press conference, members of the Wilmington 10 hugged and shook community members' hands. Though Wilmington 10 member Connie Tyndall died just five months shy of realizing his pardon, Vereen said he's probably thanking God for it from heaven.
“If Connie were here he would say God bless us all,” Vereen added. “He would also ask for prayers for the ones who tried to convict us.”