When I was 19, a prosecutor framed me and nine other civil rights activists for firebombing a building in Wilmington, NC. We were dubbed the Wilmington Ten, convicted by a jury that included multiple KKK members, and sentenced to 29 years in prison.
At nineteen, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer or running for office. But when I was released on parole eight years after my conviction, I was shunned by my community and had trouble finding enough work to get by. Worst of all, after being away for so long, my children no longer trusted me.
The Wilmington Ten were working together in 1971 to integrate public schools in our community.
Jay Stroud is the District Attorney responsible for our unjust sentencing. He built his case on the testimony of three convicted felons, all of whom retracted their statements just a few years later. A few weeks ago, the notes he took during the trial were released. They show that Stroud bribed witnesses and tried to recruit a jury with as many white racists as possible -- one note next to a jury member read "possibly KKK good."
I have been fighting against my wrongful conviction for decades, before and after I was released. I have struggled tremendously over the years to overcome the paralyzing effects of being imprisoned for crimes I never committed -- but I am determined to clear my name.
Governors usually issue pardons during their last week in office, and with North Carolina's governor set to leave at the end of the year, this could be our last chance to get a pardon and send a message to the entire country that this injustice will not be tolerated.