Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission
Connie Tindall wanted to be pardoned before he died. But like Jerry Jacobs, Joe Wright and Ann Shepard before him, Tindall was buried Friday without knowing if the state of North Carolina will ever pardon members of the Wilmington Ten.
Tindall died Aug. 3. During his funeral service Friday at Union Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, another member of the Wilmington Ten convicted of arson and conspiracy in 1972, vowed that the surviving members "will not give up the struggle to get a full pardon for the Wilmington Ten."
The Ten were accused during the racial unrest that hit Wilmington in 1971. They were convicted a year later after a controversial trial that included testimony by key witnesses who later recanted. After Amnesty International took up the case and "60 Minutes" suggested that evidence used in court was fabricated, Gov. Jim Hunt reduced their prison sentences. The charges against the Ten were overturned in 1980 by an appellate court.
Prof. Irving Joyner of North Carolina Central University School of Law said that Tindall did not set out to become a civil rights activist, but that he wanted to stand up for what was right.
Chavis, in an ode to Tindall, said that despite the "handcuffs, shackles and chains of the state" that he stood "not for the rights of black people, but for the rights of all people."
"You stood with courage to change the world," Chavis said.
Joyner said that the law, the city of Wilmington and the state of North Carolina "failed Connie Tindall" and urged those in attendance to sign the petition for the pardon of the Wilmington Ten.
At times, a yellow and brown circular logo bearing the words "Free the Wilmington 10 Now!" was projected onto the walls behind the pulpit. About 250 attended the service, sometimes rising from their seats in spontaneous outbursts of religious fervor. The crowd was particularly moved by the choir's rendition of "Perfect Peace" and Montrina Holmes' solo "It is Well."
Some of those who spoke shared memories of Tindall's smile, his laugh, his courage and his spirit. The program mentioned his love of football, a member of the longshoreman's union spoke and several others pointed out Tindall's dedication to Christianity.
Elder Lynda McMillian, who presided over the funeral, read scripture at the beginning of the service and proclaimed, "This is a celebration of life. There is nobody dead in this place."
The overriding sentiment, though, was that Tindall was a man whose life was influenced by his conviction when he was 22 years old, as well as by his time spent in prison and the stigma that followed him the rest of his days.
Despite the turbulence that ruled his life for most of the 1970s, "not one day did he bow his head" in defeat, Joyner said.
Cash Michaels, a journalist and driving force behind the Pardons of Innocence Project, said "We make this promise, dear Connie: We'll get it done!"
Mike Voorheis: 343-2205