A group of young Black men executed after being convicted by all-White juries of allegedly raping a White woman have been pardoned in Virginia 70 years after their deaths, reports CNN.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons to the “Martinsville Seven.”
“While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven, they serve 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,” Northam’s office said Tuesday.
“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,” he added.
Family members of the seven men said their relatives were interrogated under duress, without the presence of a lawyer, and their confessions were coerced under threat of mob violence.
The “Martinsville Seven” were convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, who had gone to a predominantly Black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia, on Jan. 8, 1949, to collect money for clothes she had sold.
Four of the men were executed in Virginia’s electric chair on Feb. 2, 1951. Three days later, the remaining three were also electrocuted. At the time, rape was a capital offense.
Northam was joined by descendants of the men on Tuesday where he ceremonially signed pardons for: Francis DeSales Grayson, 37; Booker T. Millner, 19; Frank Hairston Jr., 19; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; James Luther Hairston, 20; Joe Henry Hampton, 19; and John Claybon Taylor, 21.
Since last year, the Martinville 7 Coalition, including family members and community advocates, have been pushing for the posthumous pardon.
“They did not deserve to die. Governor Northam should render an apology to the families of these seven men, stating that they should not have been executed,” James Grayson, son of Francis DeSales Grayson, said. “It’s never too late to right a wrong.”