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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kojo Nantambu, May 15, 1978. Interview B-0059. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The trial of the Wilmington Ten

Nantambu explains the trial of the Wilmington Ten, the various examples of misconduct by the white authorities, the ways the black community was intimidated, and how all of the details became public.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kojo Nantambu, May 15, 1978. Interview B-0059. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LARRY THOMAS:
Were you one of the sixteen?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Naw, . See, they looked at some pictures, and they didn't have no pictures of me. See, they had pictures of people who was in the march, right? Well, I was working over there so I wasn't in the march. So they went through the march and said that Allen picked out people that he knew. Then they circled them, or the pictures of the people they want. Now he said the pictures had Xs on them already. They asked Allen their names. They had Xs there, like we want this one. And to show you that they didn't know what they were dealing with, they arrested two Jerry Jacobs. Two of them. And the other one stayed in jail for two weeks before they realized which one they had, before they decided which one was the right Jerry Jacobs. That's when they come up with the statement about Scarface because they were saying that Jerry ...
LARRY THOMAS:
stayed in jail two weeks?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Both of them was in jail two weeks before they let the other one go, to decide that Jerry Jacobs ...
LARRY THOMAS:
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Yeah.
LARRY THOMAS:
He seems like he's all right now.
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Yeah, he's straight now, thank God. I hope he stays that way.
LARRY THOMAS:
He was talking right, too.
KOJO NANTAMBU:
This is how we know. See, Allen didn't know Jerry. They just showed him the pictures and let him pick people and he picked people he knew. See, Allen didn't know me, at all, not you. After he found out who I was--that I would kill him if he lied on me--somebody would anyhow, he even threatened us one time when we were marching around the courthouse. He was talking about, "Y'all going to get y'all's. We going to get you." I said, "Yeh, buddy."
LARRY THOMAS:
When was this?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
looking out the window. The pigs, put him to the window and said like, "Yeah, look at down there." Like a fool, man. This was during the hearing. We laughed at him, man.
LARRY THOMAS:
Y'all were picketing the trial? Who were the other guys? You said there were sixteen?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
It was this brother named Michael Peterson. I told you about Tommy. They had George Kirby. There was a brother named Connell Flowers. And the other Jerry Jacobs I told you about. And then this brother named James Bunting.
LARRY THOMAS:
What happened to James Bunting?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
They dropped all the charges.
LARRY THOMAS:
There was insufficient evidence?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Yeah. The charge that they got on all of them is insufficient, but they just narrowed it down to ten to deal with immediately.
LARRY THOMAS:
What do you think about that trial, that whole fiasco?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
That's what I was going to say--that's what it was, a fiasco. A charade, man. That was the greatest miscarriage of justice I ever witnessed in my life or ever read about.
LARRY THOMAS:
Why?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Because of the fact that all the evidence was circumstantial. The only thing they had was pictures.
LARRY THOMAS:
What kind of pictures?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Pictures taken a year later. Like, "This is a picture of Sixth and Nun," this is a so-and-so, you know. Showing these pictures to Allen Hall and letting him describe something. Then they used a man who had been committed to a sanatorium three times ... an asylum
LARRY THOMAS:
Who?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Yeah. Allen Hall tried to kill himself three times before and during the trial. He was not a creditable witness at all because he was unstable. His whole character was unstable. Allen was--you've seen people that like out--grow their senses, you know, young, wild, and then he wasn't too bright in the first place. He was cunning, but he wasn't bright. The first trial--they went to trial, they picked their jury--it had ten blacks and two whites, even though they hadn't finalized the jury. Then the district attorney, the assistant D. A., sickness. It was James Stroud, when he got sick. But everybody in the D. A.'s office is supposed to be capable of picking up where the other one left off--that's why they got a lot of assistants. If something happened to him, then the main D. A., Allen Kyle, should have been able to pick up the trial. The judge declared a mistrial. That was one of the complaints that Ferguson filed to the federal courts. And then at the next trial, they changed the method of choosing the jury. Ever how they listed the jury, they came up with ten whites and two blacks.
LARRY THOMAS:
Tell me about Stroud. What do you think ...?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
Stroud was very arrogant, very ambitious, very racist--I'm trying to find another word for that cracker. He was just ...
LARRY THOMAS:
Sick?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
He was a sick cracker, man. He was very ambitious. He wanted to get a big job and wanted to make a name for himself. He thought he was the smartest cracker that came along. I don't know what kind of district attorney he thought he was, but he thought he was God's gift to the courtroom in his attitude, manner, everything he said, because me and him had a where he tried to highlight me and make me say something, but I was always cool, and I had him looking like a damn fool in the court. He's a sick man. His main objective was to get Ben. See, he studied Ben's activities around North Carolina. I guess he felt if he could get Ben, that he would get some prestige in North Carolina. This evidence that he almost said--because he told his cousin, Dewey Wheeler, up there at the Amoco station on Sixteenth and Dawson--that's where brother Tommy used to work. When Ben and them went in, he told them to tell Tommy that he wouldn't have anything to worry about because he'd done already got Ben. Said he wouldn't have to worry about the other charges--they were just going ahead and drop the other charges. Those crackers, man, they're something else. [Laughter]
LARRY THOMAS:
They're sick, no question. It's
KOJO NANTAMBU:
But Stroud's vicious, he's shrewd. I don't think anything is beyond him. He's capable of doing anything. I wouldn't doubt him committing murder, man. And as far as all the hearings and the things that have happened since the Wilmington Ten have been in prison--the writs being filed, the other hearing they had last May 9th through whatever--the only thing that's happened is that it's reinforced my already understanding that white folks is going to support white folks, white folks is going to stand behind white folks whether what they're doing is right or wrong. To them, they're saying, "We're brothers, this is our country, this is our government, this is our law, we're going to uphold it to the end." And they've got to uphold it to the end because ... It was so evident, man. Like last May, Judge Fountain was supposed to rule on whether or not it was enough sufficient evidence to warrant another trial; whether there was enough evidence to warrant a trial was all he was supposed to rule on--this cracker he tell Ferguson after the trial that in lieu of all the evidence, he didn't see where the brothers' constitutional rights had been abused. He can't rule on nobody's constitutional rights. That's a supreme court responsibility. He couldn't do that. That wasn't his function no way. It makes you question: do he know his function or was he avoiding his function? Then what's so obvious is that it was some lady from Asheville--she got up there and told that S came and got her daughter and her, flew them to North Carolina, put them in a hotel, so Allen Hall could be with her daughter while he was a prisoner. You don't know of them doing no prisoners like that, man. Plus they took Allen up there. And she explained that Allen and the girl were supposed to get married--because Allen was under a lot of pressure and they needed her to calm him down. And also she testified that S called her and tried to talk to her so she wouldn't be so hard against Allen. And do you know, that judge still--that in itself is enough to let anybody know that the cracker was doing some thing wrong.
LARRY THOMAS:
What was this judge doing when people was telling him all this?
KOJO NANTAMBU:
He was ignoring it. He wasn't paying no attention. He was just sitting up there like this, thinking, "Well, I'll be glad when this shit is over." That's the expression that he had on his face. He couldn't have been listening because all that stuff that he heard, he couldn't have took it in. He made his decision the next morning. It was early the next morning or the same day. The next morning, the first thing the next morning. First he had told the press that it might be a couple of weeks. He had to cogitate over all this stuff, you know. And he came back the next morning and made his decision. I mean, immediately, and this man had heard two weeks of intense examination of evidence, man, all kinds of evidence, and everything that he had heard was new. The three brothers came in there and told him that the crackers had made deals with them and told them to lie. The brothers told him that the man offered them a bike. The people said that he got the bike, and the man admitted that he gave them the bike. Jerome Mitchell admitted that he had a heavy crime over his head, and that the man made a deal with him, and he testified that he didn't even know Ben then, he didn't know nothing about them, that they told him what to say--he read a trial transcript. Do you see what I'm saying? They even had copies of the old trial transcript. Ferguson, to show the judge, with the man, and wrote it out. Stroud . And then Allen Hall got on the telephone, called Stroud, and told Stroud that he lied, that under him, and then he got on the telephone and called Ferguson