Gov. Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons Tuesday for a group of Black men executed 70 years ago for allegedly raping a white woman in Martinsville.
The pardons do not address the guilt of the group known as the “Martinsville Seven.” Instead, Northam said he issued the pardons “as recognition from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially-biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants.”
“This is about righting wrongs,” Northam said in a statement released by his office along with a copy of the pardon. “We all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, equal, and gets it right—no matter who you are or what you look like. I’m grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance. While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace.”
The seven men, ranging in age from 18-37 years old, were arrested in 1949 for the reported rape of 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, a white woman who lived in Martinsville. Each were tried and sentenced to death within an eight-day period by all-white juries.
According to court records, some of the men admitted to “having intercourse” with Floyd, but they claimed they were drunk and did not remember holding her down as the victim had claimed. Northam’s pardon also said 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 over a three-day period in February 1951.
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SOURCE: USA Today; The Progress-Index, Bill Atkinson