Wilmington, N.C. — Ben Chavis of the Wilmington 10 celebrated many important milestones Monday – the second inauguration of the nation's first black president in the 50th anniversary year of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and 150th anniversary year of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Chavis, along with eight other men and one woman, was wrongly convicted of arson more than 40 years ago in the fire-bombing of a grocery store during race riots in Wilmington.
A native of Granville County, he spoke Monday at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Oxford.
"The re-election of President Barack Obama was a re-affirmation of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.," Chavis said.
But, on a personal level for Chavis, Monday marked three weeks since the Wilmington 10 were pardoned by outgoing Gov. Bev Perdue.
"I remember when I finally got the paper Gov. Perdue signed – the pardon of innocence – I said, 'These two sheets of paper, this is heavy. This is a heavy document,'" he said.
The pardon ended a long journey for the Wilmington 10, who were long branded as criminals rather than civil rights activists.
Chavis said he always knew that wrong would eventually be made right.
"I knew this day would come. I did not know when," he said. "It turns out, in the end, to be a good story where people can learn that, when people stand up for what's right, right will return its favor on you."
Four members of the Wilmington 10 died before they were pardoned.
Perdue issued the pardons on Dec. 31 in a move state NAACP President Rev. William Barber called an act of "redemption and grace."