February 07, 2013
By George E. Curry
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (NNPA) – Nearly two years ago, an emotional Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. stood before the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation’s annual Black Press Week observance in the nation’s capital, hoping the NNPA would launch a national campaign to win a pardon of innocence for each member of the Wilmington Ten from the governor of North Carolina.
On Thursday, he appeared at the NNPA’s mid-winter conference here, less than a month after the North Carolina governor issue the pardons just before leaving office.
“First and foremost, we want to thank God Almighty and in thanking God, we thank the National Newspaper Publishers Association for your courage, for your dedication, for your steadfastness and commitment,” Chavis told the publishers.
“Gov. Beverly Perdue, the governor of North Carolina – the outgoing governor – on Dec. 31st, the eve of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued a pardon of innocence to the Wilmington Ten. If it were not for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, your leadership, I doubt if we would be here today.”
But Chavis was here. And so was Mary Alice Thatch, publisher of the Wilmington Journal and the person who urged the NNPA to seek pardons for the Wilmington Ten. So were James E. Ferguson II and Irvin Joyner, the original attorneys who represented the activists and stood by their side for more than 40 years. So was Cash Michaels, who wrote the stories that created tremendous pressure on Gov. Perdue to issue the pardons. And so were NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell, who actively supported the campaign, and Dorothy Leavell, then-chairperson of the NNPA Foundation when it sponsored the Black Press Week luncheon where the NNPA decided to launch a national campaign to fully exonerate the Wilmington Ten.
“I guarantee you that there’s no other organization of journalists that could have pulled off what you just pulled off,” said Chavis, now an NNPA columnist.
What the NNPA pulled off was a 2-year campaign, which was accelerated last spring when Michaels accepted a request from Thatch to coordinate the campaign. Michaels immediately reached out to Irvin Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University, to serve as co-chair of the Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project, and James E. Ferguson II, the lead attorney.
After more than a dozen stories by Michaels, most of which were published on the front page of Black newspapers across the nation; numerous public rallies, and a petition drive on Change.org that collected more than 150,000 signatures, Gov. Perdue issued the pardons on New Year’s Eve, less than a week before leaving office.
The road to complete vindication was not an easy one.
Chavis returned from New York to his home state when the United Church of Christ assigned him in Feb. 1971 to assist Black students in Wilmington protest unfair treatment of them in a newly-desegregated school system. During a period of unrest, someone firebombed Mike’s Grocery, a White-owned business located near Gregory Congregational Church, where Chavis had set up headquarters. When fire fighters and police officers arrived, they were attacked by snipers.
Chavis and nine others were charged and convicted of arson and conspiracy for their purported role in the incident. Most of the defendants received a 29-year sentence, with Ann Shepard, a White woman from Auburn, N.Y., receiving the most lenient sentence of 15 years and Chavis getting 34 years, the longest sentence.
It was later disclosed that the chief accuser against the Wilmington Ten had mental problems and the prosecutor did special favors for him and two others willing to provi
“I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained,” said Perdue, a Democrat. “Justice demands that this stain finally be removed. The process in which this case was tried was fundamentally flawed. Therefore, as Governor, I am issuing these pardons of innocence to right this longstanding wrong.”
Although many Blacks in Wilmington had shunned the wrongfully accused defendants for years, they turned out in full force at a recent rally in which members or relatives of the Wilmington Ten were presented with the pardons of innocence.
According to the North Carolina governor’s office, a pardon of innocence is granted “when an individual has been convicted and the criminal charges are subsequently dismissed. Application for this type of Pardon allows an individual to petition the Governor for a declaration of innocence when the individual has been erroneously convicted and imprisoned and later determined to be innocent.”
Chavis said, “Four members died before they could get that sheet of paper. When Fergie and Irv [the two attorneys] gave me the pardon, it was on two sheets of papers. I said, ‘Wow! This is some heavy two sheets of paper – a 40-year wait.’
“Another thing I’m most impressed about [are] my co-defendants, which you can see some of them on canes, can barely walk, they never let their spirit be broken – they kept their spirit intact.”
That spirit was captured in a moving video made by Cash Michaels, a video that documented the emotional church service in Wilmington after Gov. Perdue granted the pardons.
Throughout the video, Mary Alice Thatch, whose father supported the Wilmington Ten when many others in the community rejected them, wept quietly as she sat on the front row. She held a glass of orange juice in her left hand while using a tissue clutched in her right hand to slowly dab tears from each eye. It was a process she would repeat throughout the 15-minute video.
When the video ended, NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell noted that many people in the audience had also been shedding tears.
After thanking the publishers, Attorney Ferguson highlighted the uniqueness of the pardon by the governor.
“This was not just a pardon of innocence that the governor signed on Dec. 31,” he explained. “Some governors over time have given pardons of innocence. But there has been no pardon of innocence in the history of North Carolina – and I doubt in the history of the country – where a governor signed it, saying our system of justice has been disgraced by the prosecution in this case. And she talked about the findings from that prosecutor’s box.
“She talked about a prosecutor who racially manipulated a trial [by pretending to be sick when a jury of 10 Blacks and two Whites were selected; when he got “well,” he had picked a jury of 10 Whites and two Blacks].
“She talked about a prosecutor who had a list of jurors that said on one side where there were White jurors: ‘KKK-good.’ And on the other side: ‘Stay away from Black men.’ So it was right there in the prosecutor’s own handwriting. And one of the things that motivated this governor was the shame that she felt in seeing what a prosecutor in North Carolina had done in order to manipulate a conviction.”
Ferguson said the governor considered taking milder actions, including issuing a pardon of forgiveness that states a person had been forgiven of a criminal conviction. In the end, she took the bolder route.
“I want you to know that it didn’t come just from the goodness of their heart,” the attorney said. “It came because you put her in a position where she had no choice. And I can tell you that they sought choices.”
Ferguson said no credible evidence was ever presented against the Wilmington Ten, including the testimony of three African-Americans who were given lighter prison terms for unrelated crimes in exchange for their testimony.
“All three young men later also recanted their testimony,” Ferguson recounted. “All took an oath and said, ‘I lied. And I lied because the prosecutor induced me to lie.’”
In reversing a lower court decision that found the activists guilty, the defense attorney said the panel of appeals judges in 1980 issued a strong rebuke of Jay Stroud, the prosecutor.
“It was one of the strongest indictments of a prosecutor I have seen in my 46 years of practice,” Ferguson said. “… It said not only did these witnesses perjure themselves, but the prosecutor knew they were perjuring themselves at the time. And that the court – the judge – aided them in presenting perjured testimony.”
Professor Joyner said there are other cases similar to the Wilmington Ten that deserve media attention.
He told the publishers: “Wherever your newspaper is located, there is a story of injustice that you ought to go out and find and lift up in the very same way you lifted up the Wilmington Ten story.”
January 31, 2013
By Cora Jackson-Fossett
LAWT Religion Editor
Moving to assert his legal rights, the Rev. Dr. John J. Hunter filed a civil lawsuit on January 24 against individual members and the congregation-at-large of Bethel A.M.E. Church in San Francisco.
His charges against them allege assault, battery and libel he endured on November 4 when he arrived at the historic edifice to preach his first sermon as the new pastor following eight years as spiritual leader of First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles.
“I have taken the affirmative steps to address the wrongs that have been committed against me in the city of San Francisco by the officers and members of Bethel A.M.E. Church,” said Dr. Hunter.
“We do not give up our legal rights as citizens when we’re ministers. We still have rights not to be assaulted, not to be battered, not to be defamed. God has called us to serve, not to be doormats.”
Describing Bethel’s actions as “unprecedented,” Hunter said he was shocked by “the rudeness, the crudeness, the hostility and disrespect that they have shown consistently.
“To see God’s people behaving as they did, I was devastated and hurt that people would act as they act and reject me as their pastor based on anything they might have heard and/or read.”
Dr. Hunter and his wife, Denise, have garnered steady public attention since his appointment last October. Media across the country reported when Bethel members blocked his entry into the sanctuary and in December, the FAME congregation filed suit against the Hunters contending mismanagement of church funds and property. Earlier this month, Mrs. Hunter captured news headlines by denouncing all allegations and declaring the family’s innocence of all charges.
While the community response is far from decided, one entity, the A.M.E. Church Judicial Council, addressed Bethel’s actions. In a recent decree, the body admonished the congregation and confirmed Dr. Hunter’s assignment to the church.
“The Judicial Council ruled that the activities of the members were wrong and ordered them to cease and desist of the kind of activity they had engaged in that started on November 4, physically assaulting me, blocking me from entering the sanctuary, the publication of a resolution which had erroneous material in it that they handed to me and distributed to numerous sources including media, and then, of course, their persistent walking in and out of the service, particularly out of the service when the word of God has been proclaimed,” Dr. Hunter said.
Despite the tenuous relationship with the members, Dr. Hunter said he has preached five Sunday services since his appointment. Advised by his doctor not to travel in December, he returned to the pulpit this month and intends to perform his pastoral duties.
“I remain prayerful and will continue to serve the church I have been appointed and assigned to serve as best I can and continue to pursue my legal remedies as I have laid them out as causes of action in the lawsuit,” he said.
In addition, he vowed to wait patiently for the Judicial Council’s decision on the validity of his reassignment from FAME to Bethel.
“The whole issue of the ecclesiastic legality of my move has yet to be determined, so given that, I will reserve comment until that has been dealt with internally.
“I respect the AME Church and its processes and we do have a number of processes and procedures to deal with issues as they arise in the church. I will submit to that process until it’s completed,” said Dr. Hunter.
As for allegations contained in FAME’s lawsuit, Dr. Hunter declared, “First AME’s corporations have been audited every year. We continued to use the CPA firm that was being used prior to us. It’s necessary to do that to run the various entities.
“We could not continue to serve in the various capacities which we have served in if we were not doing it with accountability and credibility.”
Although facing several challenges on multiple levels, Dr. Hunter utilizes any spare time to contemplate his future.
“I’ve not thought about giving up on God or not participating in ministry. It’s been a time to certainly reflect.
“One of my favorite scriptures, and one I found to be true, is Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.’
“So I know in my own life, even the disappointments of life, have worked for good. God knows what God is doing and He knows what we face.
“I believe that ultimately, even this horrific chapter in my life and the life of my wife and family, will ultimately work for good and we will see the hand of the Lord in this and through this before it is all said and done.”
Congressman Maxine Waters released the following statement marking the fourth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:
“As a longtime activist for women’s rights, I am pleased to recognize the anniversary of the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Four years ago I was privileged to vote for this critical legislation reaffirming a core American principle: equal pay for equal work — regardless of gender, race, or background.
Equal pay for equal work has been one of my top priorities dating back to the women’s movement when I served on the Board of the Ms. Foundation for Women. I have worked with Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal, Patsy Mink and many other women pioneers in the women’s movement to highlight issues affecting working women, and to create and support public policy for equal treatment for all women. Throughout my years in the California State Assembly and Congress, I have been a tireless advocate on issues of concern to women in the workplace and women small business owners.
The signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act by President Obama in 2009 was a long time coming. Lilly Ledbetter sued the company she worked at for nearly 20 years after learning that she was paid less than her male counterparts at the facility, despite having more experience than several of them. Although the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restored a woman’s right to fight pay discrimination, significant disparities persist between the pay of men and women in the U.S. workforce.
Simply put, there is still more work to be done to level the playing field for all female workers. According to the latest U.S. Census data, women make just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This could cost a woman up to $2 million in lost wages over their lifetime.
I will continue to fight for fairness and equality for women in California and across America. The time is now to enact the Paycheck Fairness Act in the 113th Congress, in order to ensure equal pay for women in the workplace. This law would modernize the landmark Equal Pay Act of 1963 by providing effective remedies to women who are not being paid equal wages for doing equal work.”
Los Angeles County is planning a crackdown on makeshift maternity wards where mothers from other countries stay while giving birth so their children will be U.S. citizens.
The county has received 60 complaints about such facilities in the past month, according to a report by the Planning Department submitted to the Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Times reported.
That compared to just 15 complaints in the previous five years. The surge might be due to publicity over the closure of a house in Chino Hills that authorities contended had been used to house as many as 30 Chinese women.
It isn’t illegal for foreign citizens to give birth in the U.S., but authorities say the maternity tourism hotels frequently are remodeled single-family homes in areas that aren’t zoned for hotels or boarding houses.
County Supervisor Don Knabe wants to develop a county law that would specifically outlaw such facilities.
“They’re a moneymaking machine. They’re totally unsafe,” Knabe said. “It’s so obvious that they jeopardize not only the health of the baby, but the mother as well.”
The Planning Commission report said efforts were being made to crack down on the hotels for zoning, building and health code violations.
Pregnant women, many from Asia, can pay thousands of dollars to stay in the facilities, authorities said.
Officials who went to the Chino Hills home in November said the single-family home had been divided into 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms. Neighbors complained of a sewage spill from an overloaded septic tank.
The house was shut down after the city sued the owners.
Elsewhere, joint inspections have been staged by the planning, public works and child welfare departments, and cases have been referred to the state tax board, the report said.
Inspections can be difficult because people answering the door sometimes claim they are unable to speak English and won’t allow inspectors to enter. The Planning Department will try to include Chinese-language translators on its inspection teams, the report said.
In addition, child welfare investigators will look for signs of child abuse and neglect, such as newborns crowded into makeshift nurseries, said Neil Zanville, a spokesman for the county Department of Children and Family Services.
“We’d not only ask about sleeping arrangements, we’d ask, has this baby been seen by a doctor? Has it had its shots?” Zanville said.
By JOHN HEILPRIN Associated Press
Indonesia may hold the key to a $1 trillion injection into the global economy.
That’s how much the World Trade Organization believes is riding on talks later this year in Bali, when trade ministers hope to cut through some of the red tape that slows global commerce.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told The Associated Press that failure is not an option and that a strong effort is being put in to ensure that the WTO meeting in Bali is “crowned with success.”
The current trade talks, known as the Doha Round, began in 2001, and after a decade of little progress for a range of reasons, many had pronounced the negotiations to reduce global trade barriers as dead.
There are hopes that the current fragile state of the world economy, including the debt crisis afflicting the 17 European Union countries that use the euro and unspectacular U.S. growth, may add impetus to the discussions.
“It’s very critical now, especially with the difficulties in the global economy, especially in the eurozone,” he said of efforts to reach a new global free trade pact. “Trade facilitation becomes a key driver for economic recovery, so this is now even ever more important to what it was before.”
Trade ministers from 24 nations met January 26 on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos in an unofficial gathering hosted by the Swiss government.
Afterward, Swiss Economic Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said the group agreed they could reach a tentative agreement on some of the key elements of a global trade deal this summer, in preparation for the ministerial talks in December at Bali.
Schneider-Ammann said he sensed some “optimism” that efforts to streamline customs procedures and other rules to reduce the costs of trade “will be successful.”
The ministers agreed to resist protectionism, focus on elements such as trade facilitation and agriculture, and to “take stock” around Easter of the progress being made, Schneider-Ammann said.
“Serious attempts to deliver results in Bali have already started,” he added.
The Doha negotiations have been billed as a way of boosting economic development among the poorest countries, by reducing barriers on their exports to wealthier markets.
The WTO’s director general, Pascal Lamy, has been telling the Davos gathering of political, business and academic elites that an international trade deal would provide a $1 trillion boost to the global economy. He estimates world trade is worth about $22 trillion.
Flanked by Schneider-Ammann, Lamy told reporters that he believes it is technically “do-able” to craft draft agreements on some of the key elements of a deal by next summer.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said he had to “temper” his enthusiasm for a deal since it has eluded the world for a decade.
Areas of dispute include tariffs on manufactured good, agricultural subsidies, market access and intellectual property rules. Brazil, China and India have resisted U.S. demands to lower taxes on imports of manufactured goods.
“But, at least of the 24 countries represented today, it felt like we had made more substantive progress,” Kirk said in an AP interview. “The good news is we’ve spent a lot of work on a smaller, more realistic package centered around trade facilitation, which can be a huge benefit to developing economies. And it feels like that is starting to bear fruit.”
Kirk, who leaves his job next month, said the ministers renewed their commitment “to double down, do what we need to do” to reach a deal in Bali. “I’m as hopeful as I’ve been in a long time.”
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