Former North Carolina governor stands up for justice

3/31/2013, 3:46 p.m.

Chavis was sent to Wilmington in 1971 by the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice to organize and lead a group of students amid tensions caused by the closing of a Black high school.

Their headquarters was at Gregory Congregational Church, just blocks away from Mike's Grocery, the White-owned grocery store firebombed in February 1971. Officials claimed to have found ammunition in the church, leading to the arrest and later conviction of Chavis and eight others.

Chavis was sentenced to 34 years in prison.

Although their convictions were overturned in 1980, the Wilmington 10 weren't pardoned until Dec. 31, 2012, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

"Without those quiet voices that banded together to speak up for justice in the face of naked racism this wouldn't have happened," Perdue said after she was presented with the award.

"We in the South understand freedom and equity and privilege," Perdue said. "It was my privilege to present this pardon of innocence to a group of citizens of my state in this country who were truly innocent. We all would want that for ourselves and our friends and our family, and so it was the right thing to do."

Chavis notes that this event should be a source of pride for the Black Press community.

"The truth is that the context in which the governor made the decision was the context of the Black Press of America through the NNPA flexing its muscles," Chavis said. "We should never understate what we do, today was a proper statement of what we do."