WILMINGTON, NC (WECT ) – Supporters of the Wilmington 10 packed into Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ on Nun Street in Wilmington Saturday afternoon, as the surviving members of the group were formally given the Certificates of Pardon from the governor's office.
The four members of the Wilmington 10 who have passed away were represented by family members.
"It's been a long time coming," said Marvin Patrick, a member of the Wilmington 10. "I'm just overwhelmed."
"Right now, I'm elated. It should have been years ago," said Willie Earl Vereen, another member.
The 10 were originally convicted of arson and conspiracy in the 1971 firebombing of Mike's Grocery store during race riots that rocked the city for days.
Some members of the group spent several years in jail before their convictions were overturned in 1980.
"It's been hard to get a job, knowing you didn't do anything it's like a cloud that hangs over you," said Vereen.
"Unbearable, hard to get a job, eating out of soup kitchens, it's been hard very hard," said Patrick.
Benjamin Chavis, another member, says since the early 1970's many changes have been made in Wilmington.
"40 years ago, Wilmington was racially polarized," said Chavis. "Today I think it's a better city because of what we went through in the '70's." However, he says there is still more to be done to better race relations across the nation.
"I think today's ceremony was a door opening," said Chavis.