"Hey, hey, Mr. Peanut Man. What you gonna do about the Wilmington 10?"
Led by folk singer Pete Seeger, thousands of demonstrators called out to President Carter from just beyond the front lawn of the White House yesterday to ask him to free the nine members of the Wilmington 10 who remain imprisoned.
"Human rights begin at home. Free the Wilmington 10," they cried.
The rally, one of the largest this year in front of the White House, drew an estimated 8,000 demonstrators from around the country to hear activist Angela Davis, actress Ruby Dee and Elisabeth Chavis, mother of the leader of the Wilmington 10 prisoners, the Rev. Ben Chavis.
"I haven't felt this good in a long, long time," said Davis, who attracted public attention as a black power activist in the 1960s.
"I guess you all know by now that President Carter has conveniently managed to be out of town this day. But I have news for you. He went to North Carolina (Friday), and while he was speaking in Salem, some students from Wake Forest approched and you know what they said? They said, 'Hey, hey Mr. Peanut Man. What you gonna do about the Wilmington 10?' You see, he can't get away from us," Davis said.
[A White House reporter covering Carter's speech at Wake Forest Friday said he did not hear that chant.]
Demonstrators perched on tree limbs and huddled under trees in Lafayette Park and cheered loudly. Members of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the group that organized the rally, moved through the thick crowd collecting donations for a defense fund for the Wilmington 10, who recently had their prison sentences reduced instead of the pardon their supporters believe they deserve.
The Wilmington 10, who have become a celebrated civil rights cause, are nine black men and a white woman convicted and sentenced to prison for a 1971 grocery store firebombing in Wilmington, N.C.
The 10 have maintained their innocence through years of federal and state court appeals. Three major witnesses against them have since recanted testimony given during the trials in 1972.
When the only white person in the case was paroled and pardons were refused for the others, U.S. Reps. John Conyers, (D-Mich.), Don Edwards, (D-Calif.), Robert Drinan (D-Mass.), and Michael Harrington (D-Mass.) began urging that President Carter become involved in the case.
Yesterday several demonstrators carrying placards and chanting slogans during a march along 16th Street toward the White House, said they had driven from as far away as San Diego for the rally.
"We just want Carter to know we're very disappointed in him," said Marc McGee, 25-year-old student from San Diego State. "This is the only way I could let my friends know I'd finally come around to seeing Carter for what he is. It took us four days to drive out here, but it was worth it," he said.
Elisabeth Chavis, who received a long ovation when she approached the microphone, read a message from her son.
"He says he is most impressed with the unity displayed here today. We should all keep up the fight for freedom and justice. He says he doesn't know how long the fight will last or how long he will be able to struggle himself," Mrs. Chavis said.
"Seven years has taken some of his strength and agility. The physical toll is apparent. But he wants to say that not only have you all saved the lives of the Wilmington 10, but also the life of the civil right movement."