North Carolina Democratic Party chairman Randy Voller is considering naming former Nation of Islam leader Benjamin Chavis as the state party’s new executive director. Voller was expected to announce Chavis’ hiring at a Wednesday press conference, but canceled the event Tuesday night during a conference call with party leaders, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
An interim executive director is being tapped for 30 days while Voller and his cohorts “explore a permanent replacement.” Voller made clear on Tuesday night’s call that Chavis is his preferred choice for the job.
Chavis burnished his civil rights credentials as a member of the “Wilmington Ten,” released from prison in 1980 with the legal counsel of Amnesty International after serving time for firebombing a white-owned business in North Carolina.
Chavis went on to co-found an all-black political party which was formed because “the American system…does not work in our interests,” and had sexual harassment cases lead to his downfall in leadership positions at the NAACP and Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.
Here are four nuggets from Chavis’ past:
1. Convicted for firebombing as part of the “Wilmington Ten”
Chavis was convicted alongside nine fellow perpetrators in the February 6, 1971 firebombing of Mike’s Grocery in Wilmington, North Carolina, which occurred as Chavis and others were leading a school boycott. After the town broke out in fatal rioting, Chavis and his cohorts were arrested by the National Guard on February 8. Chavis was sentenced to 34 years for arson and conspiracy.
Amnesty International later took on the appeal of the “Wilmington Ten,” creating a high-profile racial issue and earning the overturning of the arsonists’ convictions in 1980 on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. With the support of the NAACP, Chavis successfully petitioned for a pardon from North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue in December 2012.
2. Founded a Black political party because, in the words of his co-founder, “the American system (political, economic, social) does not work in our interests”
Chavis was one of the founding leaders of the National Black Independent Political Party, an all-black political third party formed in 1980 to resist both the Democrats and the Republicans. Chavis’ “impassioned plea for immediate action” helped galvanize the party into existence.
The party convened November 21-23, 1980 with 2,000 attendees at the Malcolm X High School in Philadelphia, vowing in its charter to “attain power to radically transform the present socioeconomic order, that is, to achieve self-determination and social and political freedom for the masses of black people” and to “oppose racism, imperialism, sexual oppression, and capitalist oppression.”
“We have launched this new party to tell the truth to black people – that the American system (political, economic, social) does not work in our interests and cannot be made to address our needs without fundamental humanistic change,” wrote National Black Independent Political Party leader, Marxist academic, and Democratic Socialists of America vice-chairperson Manning Marable on December 2, 1980.
“This is a party launched on a vision – a vision of where progressive change must come to benefit the people of African descent who have always been among the most oppressed sector of the American political economy,” Marable wrote.