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The Wilmington Ten: 'Political Prisoners'

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By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from the Wilmington Journal

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Father Paul Mayer, a one-time Benedictine monk, is a White Catholic priest of 55 years. He has traveled the world, advocating for the poor in Latin America, protesting against nuclear proliferation and demanding equal rights for all global citizens. As a young child, Mayer fled Nazi Germany with his parents as the Jews were being persecuted. So the religious leader has a particular disdain for injustice.

While in the seminary, Fr. Mayer traveled to Selma, Ala. in 1965 to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his drive for voting rights.

“That was a life-changing experience,” the activist minister, who has been part of many of the peace and social justice movements of the last half-century, says today.

“The Reverend Paul Mayer is a lifelong colleague in the civil rights movement,” Benjamin Chavis, leader of the Wilmington Ten, says. “Rev. Mayer is a research scholar, and a transformative social visionary.”

Until now, Father Mayer, an Occupy Movement activist at age 81, has never identified himself as the author of the historic 1977 report by Amnesty International (AI) that first declared the Wilmington Ten as “political prisoners.”

Indeed, the authors of reports – the powerful international organization based in London that chronicles human rights abuses worldwide – are rarely identified for their own safety, making Fr. Mayer’s first and exclusive recollections about his Wilmington Ten investigation – which he writes about in his yet-to-be-published memoir, Wrestling with Angels – all the more compelling.

Mayer writes of how he searched for Rev. Eugene Templeton, the White former pastor of predominately-Black Gregory Congregational Church in Wilmington, which was at the center of the controversy.

Mayer closely followed the 1972 Wilmington Ten trial proceedings. When Ben Chavis, a young, veteran civil rights activist Mayer knew and had worked with previously, and the rest of the Wilmington Ten had been falsely convicted of conspiracy in the 1971 firebombing of a White-owned grocery store, the activist priest knew he had to get involved.

“The outrageousness of this case really had an impact on me,” Mayer recalls. “I saw such a perversion of justice. This was a case of Southern racism.”

In Feb. 1971, Chavis had been sent to Wilmington by the United Church of Christ to assist Black students who had boycotted New Hanover County public schools because of racial discrimination. Racial violence ensued, though there is no evidence that Chavis had anything to do with it.

Chavis, an Oxford, N.C. native, was sent to ensure that striking Black students, who were headquartered at Gregory Congregational Church, only employed the late Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent confrontation with Wilmington’s White power structure. But it wasn’t long before Chavis and the students became targets at the church, with trucks of marauding White supremacists riding by nightly, shooting at the church and surrounding Black community.

Fr. Mayer decided that he would investigate the case, and reached out to Amnesty International for the assignment.

Normally group would only assign investigators who lived outside of the country they were reporting on, but in Paul Mayer’s case, officials made an exception.

“I think they respected my credentials and my history,” Mayer says, recalling the process for vetting human rights abuse investigations as “excruciatingly thorough and demanding.”

He explained, “They take nothing for granted. Being declared a ‘prisoner of conscience’(which, according to Amnesty International, refers to anyone imprisoned because of their race, religious or political views) is a big deal, a major step. And at that time, they were more [stringent] than they are today.”

Following the organization’s list of criteria, the activist priest began months of intense investigation of the Wilmington Ten case.

Mayer determined that the crux of North Carolina’s charges against Chavis and his nine co-defendants was that they were holed up in Gregory Church, carrying out “an armed struggle,” meaning, that the Black activists had weapons in the church, and were firing them at firefighters and police personnel who were responding to the firebombing of the White-owned grocery store.

At the time, and to this day, Chavis and the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten deny those charges, with at least three members saying they were nowhere near Gregory Church or Mike’s Grocery.

Mayer knew that finding Rev. Templeton, who had gone into hiding for fear of his life years after the convictions, was the key to determining the answer to the burning question: “Did Ben Chavis and the Black students, who were under attack at Gregory Church, have guns there to fight back with?”

New Hanover County prosecutor Jay Stroud maintained they did, and had Chavis and company falsely convicted, and sentenced to a combined 282 years in prison, with each serving some of their sentence.

One of the reasons why Stroud was able to convict – beyond stacking the jury with 10 Whites and two Blacks in the second trial with “KKK and Uncle Tom-types,” Stroud’s own infamous notes showed 40 years later – is because the defense’s prime witness, Pastor Templeton, did not testify.

Templeton was the best witness because he was in the church the entire week of the conflict, especially the evening when Mike’s Grocery was firebombed. He knew that , in fact, with the exception of Ben Chavis, none of the Wilmington Ten were in the church.

Rev. Templeton told The Wilmington Journal last month that Chavis was with him when the grocery store was bombed, preparing in case authorities stormed the church with tear gas. Only a handful of older students were with them, providing protection.

The fact that the lives of Templeton and his wife, Donna, had been threatened by the Klan to keep his testimony from being heard in court, was significant to Mayer.

Mayer finally tracked Rev. Templeton down to Morristown, N.J. in the mid-1970s, serving as a hospital chaplain. It was weeks before Templeton returned Mayer’s phone calls, and finally agreed, under certain conditions (no tape recording) to share what would have been his testimony years earlier.

“I appealed to his conscience that this, perhaps, could save [the Wilmington Ten’s] lives,” Mayer said, indicating that all of the defendants were still in prison at the time.

“[Templeton] was terrified, and when I met him, close to a year [after contacting him], he was still a very frightened man. It took a lot of therapy on my part, and a lot of counseling.”

Mayer also told Templeton that his Amnesty International report could lead to an international campaign for the Wilmington Ten’s freedom, which it ultimately did.

Rev. Templeton began to talk, and he made it clear that despite all of the violence happening outside of Gregory Congregational Church in Feb. 1971, there were no guns inside of his church, and no one was firing weapons from the church, as had been alleged by prosecutor Stroud.

Not only was violence against all that Templeton, who had also met Dr. King, believed in, but it would have violated the trust of Gregory Church’s Trustee Board, which had voted to allow the Black students to use the church for their rallies and classes.

If any church member knew of any weapons there, Chavis and the students would have been kicked out immediately.

The jury in the Wilmington Ten trial, however, never heard any of this.

“[Rev. Templeton] was very clear on this point,” Fr. Mayer recalls. “He had no doubt…these people had no guns. That completely destroys the state’s case against [the Wilmington Ten].”

Mayer says that Templeton’s testimony to him – the “centerpiece” of his 30-page handwritten report – convinced officials at Amnesty International to publish his findings in 1977, designating the Wilmington Ten as “political prisoners.”

The report, which sparked a worldwide campaign, embarrassed not only North Carolina, but also then-President Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t long before 55 members of Congress urged the U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate. The CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” did an hour-long broadcast revealing that the three state’s witnesses had committed perjury.

The worldwide pressure for pardons forced then N.C. Gov. James B. Hunt to announce on statewide television that he would not pardon the Wilmington Ten, but at least commute their sentences.

And in December 1980, after several appeals in North Carolina courts failed, the conservative U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned all of the Wilmington Ten convictions, citing gross prosecutorial misconduct.

North Carolina was directed that if it had any real evidence against the Ten, then commence with a third trial. If not, then dismiss all charges.

But nothing happened. The Fourth Circuit’s decision was never appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; no third trial ever took place; and none of the charges were ever dismissed, even 32 years later.

Today, the man who started it all, Father Paul Mayer, says it’s time for North Carolina to finally deal with an injustice 40 years in the making. He, like many others across North Carolina and the nation, wants Gov. Beverly Perdue to do justice by granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.

“I feel deeply about this,” says Mayer . “I give thanks to God that I was a humble instrument. Even though it was years ago, I still feel that it was a major racist miscarriage of justice, and these people were maligned, defamed, and I’m sure it hurt their lives in many ways.”

“We know that racism is alive and well in America,” Mayer adds, “and [granting pardons of innocence] would be a significant step in rectifying [injustice].”

Predatory Lending Practices Continue to Weaken Blacks and Hispanics

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By Charlene Crowell
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) In the first report of its kind, the Center for Responsible Lending has examined consumer lending markets across-the-board and found that despite recent regulatory reforms – predatory lending continues to undermine American households trying to rebuild their finances after the recession.

The State of Lending in America and its Impact on U.S. Households (State of Lending, http://rspnsb.li/stateoflending) paints a picture of working families struggling to manage debt while coping with stagnant incomes and a substantial decrease in wealth. In fact, the housing crisis has produced the largest documented wealth gap ever between White households and families of color.

From 2000-2010, African-American family wealth dropped 53 percent, and Hispanic families lost 66 percent. By comparison, average White household wealth dropped only 16 percent. The foreclosure crisis and resulting economic downturn have turned back the clock on previous wealth gains, especially in communities of color.

The report states, “There is significant evidence that African-American and Latino borrowers and their neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted by subprime lenders. Borrowers of color were about 30 percent more likely to receive higher-rate subprime loans than similarly situated white borrowers. Borrowers in non-white neighborhoods were more likely to receive higher-cost loans with risky features such as prepayment penalties.”

CRL’s student loan findings echoed these same lending ills.

“Low-income students and students of color are even more likely to need to rely on student loans and to become saddled with large amounts of debt upon graduation,” the report stated. “In 2008, 16 percent of African-American graduating seniors owed $40,000 or more in student loans, compared with 10 percent of whites, eight percent of Hispanics and five percent of Asian-Americans.”

Additional findings showed that:

“Spillover” costs of foreclosures have wiped out nearly $2 trillion in family wealth;

Auto loan interest-rate markups cost consumers nearly $26 billion each year; and

Borrowers in lower credit tiers pay up to 68 percent higher monthly payments on private student loans than on safer federal loans.

The State of Lending is the first of a three-phased and in-depth view of U.S. households’ income, spending, debt, and wealth. It also outlines predatory practices in mortgage lending, credit cards, student loans, and auto loans that undercut the benefits of these products. Incorporating major CRL findings in recent years with pertinent research from sources such as the Federal Reserve Board, the Pew Research Center and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau together provide a broad database for findings.

Despite remaining lending challenges, the report shows that consumers are better off today because of stronger protections on mortgages and credit cards. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which incorporated a number of previous state initiatives to curb abusive mortgage practices, has ended many of the worst practices of the subprime era. And, contrary to industry predictions, the cost of borrowing on credit cards has not increased since the CARD Act passed; transparency has greatly increased and the use of hidden fees has gone down.

The next two State of Lending reports will be released in early 2013. The next release will cover payday loans and other financial products that trap people in long-term debt while portraying themselves as short-term solutions.

The third and final release in the series will examine abusive practices in debt collection and servicing, and conclude with a chapter documenting how lending abuses often target the same households and have a cumulative—and particularly disastrous—impact on low-income households and communities of color.

Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Sheila Bair authored State of Lending’s foreword, noting that predatory lending harms the entire U.S. economy. She warns, “If abusive lending practices are not reformed, we again will all pay dearly.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

FDIC Bank Closures: Is Your Money Safe?

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By Charles Sims Jr.
Special to the NNPA from the New Tri-State Defender

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently closed nine banks in one day. The closings boosted the number of failed U.S. banks this year to 115. Given that, and the recent turmoil at CIT Group, you might be worried about the safety of your money in financial services and investment companies.

What advice do financial planners have for Americans who are worried about the money they have in banks and brokerage accounts? Here’s what FPA member Sam Hull, CFP®, CPCC, a partner with Whitewater Transitions, had to say:

Investment accounts at all major brokerage houses and broker/dealers are covered by Federal law through the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). This insurance against failure or bankruptcy covers stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other assets (but not futures or commodity contracts) held up to $500,000 per account, including a $100,000 limit on cash. Money market funds are considered funds, not cash. Most major brokerage houses & broker/dealers also have large amounts of private insurance above and beyond SIPC amounts. Check with your firm to determine their coverage limits.

In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has tough rules about keeping the broker/dealers funds separated from the customer’s investments. If the broker goes belly-up like Lehman Brothers, your money should remain intact. In the unlikely event of a brokerage failure, SPIC will transfer your securities to another firm. If for some reason that can’t be done, SIPC will try to rebuild your portfolio, even buying new shares for you. If that can’t be done for some reason, they will give you cash.

The bad news: all this takes time and thus gives you lots of time to worry.

SIPC does not cover Ponzi schemes or other investment fraud perpetrated by an adviser. If you have the bad luck (or bad sense) to be taken in by a Madoff-type scam, this is not covered by SIPC. Most major broker/dealers do have their own policies to cover fraudulent activities. For example, if you lose cash or securities from your account due to unauthorized activity, they will reimburse you for the cash or shares of securities you lost.

However, if a broker goes bust and your investments are missing from your account, the SPIC will replace them up to the half million dollar maximum. But they won’t compensate you for any losses in value that may have occurred while the securities were missing. It is your responsibility to file a claim with SPIC for missing assets within six months.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

1. Make sure your investment accounts are held in custody by a brokerage firm or broker/dealer – not by your investment adviser or financial planner.

2. Make sure that your brokerage house or broker/dealer is a member in good standing with the SPIC.

3. Check to make sure your trades and other transactions are made through that entity and not some unrelated subsidiary that is not covered by SIPC.

4. Make sure your account is registered by default as a cash account and not defaulted to a margin account. Margin accounts make you just another creditor of the brokerage house.

5. Read the fine print of your account registration form. Don’t authorize your broker to use your account assets for any purpose you don’t authorize. The default language allows them to lend your stock (and charge a hefty fee) to short sellers, hedge funds, corporate raiders and buyout funds without offsetting collateral in house.

6. Ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers and don’t be put off by fast talk or complicated jargon. It’s your money.

A Certified Financial Planner can help you better understand your savings and investment accounts. Visit www.fpanet.org/PlannerSearch.

(Charles Sims Jr. is president/CEO of The Sims Financial Group. Contact him at 901-682-2410 or visit www.SimsFinancialGroup.com.)

Mandela Hospitalized Again, World Prays

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Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

People around the world are praying for the health of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela as he remained hospitalized since last weekend for reasons that have not been publicly announced.

Widespread reports say the 94-year-old justice icon is doing well, but Associated Press described concerned Sunday morning worshipers at Soweto’s Regina Mundi Catholic Church as praying for the Nobel Laureate, a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world. The church “once served as a major rallying point for anti-apartheid activists,” the AP described.

The country of 50 million people, as well as people around the world, awaited word of his condition this week as an announcement from current President Jacob Zuma said only that he was admitted to a hospital in Pretoria for tests “consistent for his age” and that he is “comfortable.” Zuma reportedly visited President Mandela in the hospital Sunday, causing even greater concern since he did not visit during his last hospitalization for a minor surgery in February.

Additional information was being added early this week.

“There is no cause for alarm … He [Mandela] is in the hands of a good medical team,” said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Monday, according to GIN. An update on Mandela’s health will be relayed once his doctors update the presidency, Maharaj added.

Mandela is receiving medical attention from time to time which is consistent with his age, Maharaj insisted, adding that the family wanted to avoid Mandela’s health being treated like “a movement of share prices on the stockmarket”, and wanted his family to be with him without having to answer questions. It is believed he is being treated at One Military hospital.

A Qunu traditional ruler, Nokwanele Balizulu, told foreign news agency Agence France-Presse she saw Mandela shortly before he was taken to hospital, GIN reports.

“I was called by the Mandela family saying Tata [grandfather] is not well. I rushed there and I saw he is not well,” she was quoted as saying.

Mandela reached world fame as he served 27 years in prison for his opposition to the racist apartheid rule that once divided the country between Whites, Coloreds and Blacks. Millions of American activists, celebrities and politicians joined activitists around the world in decades of protests for his freedom. Released on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela became South Africa’s first Black president in 1994 and served for five years. According to AP, he has lived in a remote village in the Eastern Cape area since retiring from public life two years ago after South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

The hospitalization comes as South Africa’s National Congress prepares for another presidential election. GIN reports that Zuma appears to have picked up the most votes from the country’s nine provinces, giving him the lead in the upcoming ANC vote for party head and to be its presidential candidate in 2014.

Votes will be tallied this month at the ANC’s national elective conference in Mangaung where factional discord is expected to boil over. Many believe the Zuma regime has buried Mandela’s principles of justice amidst of string of corruption scandals.

“Zuma’s government drew widespread criticism when police opened fire on striking workers at Lonmin Plc (LMI)’s Marikana platinum mine on Aug. 16, killing 34 people. That was followed by a wave of industrial action in mining, transportation and agriculture that has stunted economic growth,” GIN reports.

“When you have someone that’s willing to lead by example like he did, it makes things easier for people to follow,” a worshipper, Thabile Manana, told AP on Sunday. “Lately, the examples are not so nice. It’s hard. I’m scared for the country.”

Leaders Craft 'Black Agenda' for President Obama

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After a four-hour meeting of some the best minds in civil rights, business, education and the media, dozens of Black leaders from across the nation outlined a “Black agenda” that would be presented to President Barack Obama and Congress early next year.

The leadership group was assembled by Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League; Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network; Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Morial was quick to say that the meeting did not represent the formation of another group, but a collaborative effort to send a clear message to the White House during President Obama’s second term.

More than three dozen leaders attended, including National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Chairman Cloves Campbell, Southern Christian Leadership President Charles Steele and grassroots activist Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century.

“We seek not to create a new organization, we seek to turn a corner towards a direction of being collective and proactive in the pursuit of the challenges our nation faces, said Morial.

Many of those challenges such as unemployment, poverty and health care disparities are far greater among Blacks, a group that supported Obama with 93 percent of their votes in November.

In a joint statement following the meeting, the group wrote:

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we must have a seat at the table to fully leverage the talents, intellectual capital and contributions of our leaders to craft a domestic agenda that brings African-Americans closer to parity and equality, and fulfills the promises of these milestones.”

Morial summarized five priorities that would be fleshed out in the new agenda:

* Achieve economic parity for African-Americans

* Promote equity in educational opportunity

* Protect and defend voting rights.

* Promote a healthier nation by eliminating healthcare disparities

* Achieve comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system

“This is a first step towards developing a public policy agenda and we pledge to cooperate and work together with clearly defined objectives,” said Morial.

NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton agreed.

“It was important that we had this kind of conversation to begin utilizing our resources and coordinating even better and moving these initiatives forward through each of our own disciplines,” he said.

Morial said that the lesson to be learned is that we have to be proactive.

“We can’t wait and sit back and expect any elected official to write an agenda,” Morial added. “We have to do it.”

Sharpton echoed that sentiment.

“We can not ask the president to write an agenda for us to himself,” explained Sharpton. “We need to take this from rhetoric to results from people saying we need an agenda to trying to sit down and collectively come up with one, from just complaining to convening and going forward.”

As a nation watched gay and Latino groups pressure President Obama to take definitive action on issues affecting their communities, critics of Black leaders have suggested that they didn’t complain enough during Obama’s first term.

Gay rights groups heckled President Obama during fundraising events and speeches. Latino leaders organized sit-ins near the White House in opposition to the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

In 2011, President Obama worked to repeal the Clinton era “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on gay’s serving openly in the military, and in 2012 Obama became the first sitting president to support gay marriage.

And while the DREAM Act, legislation geared towards immigration reform, stalled in Congress, President Obama announced in 2012 that his administration would stop deporting young undocumented immigrants.

When CNN contributor and host of TV ONE’s “Washington Watch” Roland Martin pressed Morial on how far the leaders were willing to go to ensure that the White House addressed their agenda and if they were willing to take “external action” similar to what the civil rights leaders took 50 years ago, the NUL leader refused to go into the details.

“We are not going to let anyone peep our cards today in terms of what we are going to do,” said Morial.

He said that the group of leaders will reconvene and plans to present the Black agenda to President Obama and every member of Congress early next year.

Morial said, “We have to understand that the president works for us.”

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