RICHMOND – Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday granted posthumous pardons to a group of black men executed 70 years ago for allegedly raping a white woman in Martinsville.
Pardons do not deal with the guilt of the group known as “Martinsville Seven”. Instead, Northam said he had granted pardons “as recognition to the Commonwealth that these men were tried without proper due process and received a racial death sentence which is not applied in the same way to the accused. white “.
“This is about righting the wrongs,” Northam said in a statement released by his office with a copy of the pardon. “We all deserve a fair, equal and well-functioning criminal justice system, no matter who you are or what you look like. I am grateful to the defenders and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance. Although we cannot change the past, I hope that today’s action will bring them a small measure of peace.
Racist story:Nearly two dozen massacres of blacks in American history. Repairs? Rarely.
The seven men, aged 18 to 37, were arrested in 1949 for the reported rape of Ruby Stroud Floyd, 32, a white woman who lived in Martinsville. Each was tried and sentenced to death within eight days by all-white juries.
According to court records, some of the men admitted to “having sex” with Floyd, but claimed they were drunk and did not remember holding her as the victim claimed. Northam’s forgiveness also indicated that the men did not understand the confessions they were signing.
The Martinsville Seven were Frank Hairston Jr., 18; Booker T. Millner, 19; Francis DeSales Grayson, 37; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; James Luther Hairston, 20; Joe Henry Hampton, 19; and John Claybon Taylor, 21. All seven died in Virginia’s electric chair for three days in February 1951.
“[T]The Commonwealth of Virginia played an irrefutable role in depriving black Americans of the political, economic, and social vote to vote, and helped shape, actively enforce, and enforce Jim Crow’s racially discriminatory laws that were formed to systematically oppress black Americans and maintain the status quo. time, ”one reads Northam’s pardon. Pardon also said that race “played an undeniable role in identification, investigation, conviction and sentencing.”
According to Northam’s office, there were 45 executions for rape between 1908 and 1951, and all of those killed were black. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the death penalty was considered cruel and unusual punishment for rape.
The history of the United States is complex:Scholars say this is the right way to teach slavery, racism.
Virginia abolished the death penalty earlier this year. Between 1976, when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, and this year the Commonwealth executed 113 people, just behind Texas during that time. Since its establishment as a colony in the 17th century, historical records indicate that Virginia has carried out more than 1,400 executions.
A group seeking pardons for the Martinsville Seven contacted the governor’s office last February about the matter, according to an article in the Martinsville Bulletin.
Tuesday’s action brought the number of pardons granted by Northam as governor to 604, which his office said was higher than the previous nine governors combined.
Follow Bill Atkinson on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI