“When pigs fly” is a figure of speech often used to describe something that seems impossible to achieve. Justice and Witness Ministries claimed this phrase for years as a way to encourage and challenge all of us to work for justice even if it seems impossible to realize at the moment. For example, we referred to the end of apartheid in South African as a moment when “pigs flew.” The long awaited pardon of the Wilmington Ten on December 31 is such a moment to celebrate flying pigs.
Witness for Justice, preceded by the Civil Rights Journal, is an historic opinion column meant to lift up issues of injustice that need our attention. It has been a popular commentary for readers in community newspapers, including the Wilmington Journal, and individuals who have long supported our historic work. We are proud that our long history dates back to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, first published by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. The former Executive of the Commission, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis was its primary author in its early years. Dr. Chavis’ commitment to racial justice is legendary. He is a life-long drum major for justice and at the age of 24 was caught in this web of injustice as one falsely accused and convicted as one of the Wilmington Ten.
In May of 2012, we ran a Witness for Justice urging our readers to sign the petition appealing to North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue to pardon the Wilmington Ten. The North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Change.org, and many other civil and racial justice organizations were awe-inspiring leaders in this movement and we were eager to join their campaign. Thank you to all who signed onto the petition request in the article; our collective witness made a difference. Pigs do fly.
Indeed this case is an example of the tragic miscarriage of justice. It was a wrong that needed to be remedied. Granting pardon in the case of the Wilmington Ten is one such opportunity toward righting a grievous wrong. On her last day in office Governor Purdue acted justly! In a press conference announcing her decision she said, "I have decided to grant these pardons because the more facts I have learned about the Wilmington Ten, the more appalled I have become about the manner in which their convictions were obtained. These convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain in North Carolina’s criminal justice systems that cannot be allowed to stand any longer.” We add our praise and thanks to Governor Purdue for her action.
On Saturday, January 5, hundreds gathered at Gregory Congregational United Church of Christ in Wilmington, North Carolina in a service or praise and celebration. UCC leaders joyfully celebrated with the Wilmington Ten and their survivors, in person and in spirit. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” This journey toward justice far surpassed a small group; it is a testament to the hundreds and thousands of advocates who never gave up. Pigs fly!
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.