Ben Chavis Celebrates Wilmington 10 Pardon
Barrington M. Salmon | 1/23/2013, 12:59 p.m.
"We weren't able to participate comfortably; it was hard," Moore recalled of the forced busing. "We developed a list of grievances, including calls for a Martin Luther King observance, more cheerleaders and greater representation on the student government. In order to press them, we organized a boycott."
Moore said he attended a meeting one night at Gregory Congregational Church where Chavis - who was dispatched by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice to assist - was instructing students on how best to develop a non-violent but forceful response to school and county officials.
"Vigilantes attacked us and a riot ensued," he said. "One year later, police arrested 16 people for causing the riot. I was overwhelmed, stunned shocked. My world was turned upside down. All we wanted to do was to develop a conducive educational environment."
In February 1971, someone firebombed a grocery store located a block from the church. Chavis was arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to firebomb the store and sentenced to 34 years in prison. Moore was originally sentenced to 29 years in prison and said he served four and 1/2 years in Central Prison.
Moore, an author and electrician by trade, said he was angry and bitter initially but realized that "bitterness only eats at you."
On a website that details the experiences of the group, Moore wrote: "Although I can only imagine what it was like to be a slave chained to the bowels of a slave ship, my experience with the Wilmington 10 allowed me to somewhat sample physical bondage with no ability for self-reliance or self-determination. Once freed from physical bondage one may either become careless or carefree, mean or desensitized, or fragile or unable to cope. Or one may become a courageous warrior triumphant in many of their endeavors."
Moore said he has struggled tremendously to overcome the psychological and social effects of being imprisoned for crimes he didn't commit. His self-confidence and self-esteem were shattered and the long separation from family and friends irreparably affected those relationships.
"Repairing those wounded relationships has been my most difficult challenge to date," he said.
Moore, who was forced to move to Michigan to find work, said he's elated every time he thinks about the pardon.
"I'm still on Cloud Nine about that," he said with a laugh. "A friend called and said congrats, I asked him what for and he told me. I immediately went online and they had an issuance of pardon."
Chavis, who served as executive director of the NAACP and who played an influential role in developing the Million Man March, was paroled in 1979.
He addressed the gathering about The Dry Fry Wing Company that he co-founded with partner George Farrell, as music spun by DJ James the Great played softly in the background. As Chavis spoke, patrons from other parts of the restaurant moved in closer to hear him.
"Sisters and brothers, before we have an opportunity to taste the wings I want to set the tone," said Chavis on Jan. 18. "The grand opening takes place on the eve of the second inauguration of President Obama and on the eve of Dr. King's holiday. Young people will learn about business and the stock market, dividends and liquidity."
"On the eve of the great celebration of Obama and the living legacy of Dr. King, I can think of no better place to be."
After luminaries cut a large red ribbon outside of the building, Chavis, Steele and Farrell each spoke about the economic benefits that come from owning and operating a business. The Florida-based company - The Dry Fried Wing Bar and Grille - is entering the Washington metro area market and will operate at 7525 Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda. There are plans to spread across the country.
"We stand on the shoulders of the Kings, mommies and daddies who didn't have the opportunity," Steele said. "I hope we understand what this business means to the state and the conversations we must have about empowerment, power and ownership. Our mommies and daddies fought for the right to sit at lunch counters and this generation has the opportunity to own the diner where the lunch counter was."