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7 Black men who were executed for an alleged rape in 1951 get pardoned 70 years later

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said the group of men were denied a fair trial and said racial bias led to their conviction.

7 Black men who were executed for an alleged rape in 1951 get pardoned 70 years later
Image source: Twitter/GovernorVA

Seven Black men who were executed by an all-White jury for allegedly raping a White woman have been pardoned seven long decades after their deaths. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam acknowledged the racial bias that led to the conviction and execution of the seven men, before granting posthumous pardons to the 'Martinsville Seven.' The governor said the Black men were denied a fair trial that led to their conviction. "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," read a statement from Northam's office, reported CNN. Four of the seven executed were teenagers.


"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. The group of men was convicted of raping a 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, in Martinsville, Virginia. She had gone to collect money for clothes she had sold. 


The "Martinsville Seven" was 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. Rape was a capital offense at the time and they were executed using an electric chair. Four of the seven men were executed on February 2, 1951, while the remaining three were executed three days later. Families of the seven men said due process was not followed in the case, stating that the men were interrogated without the presence of a lawyer, and their confessions were coerced from them under the threat of mob violence.

Northam signed the pardons for the 'Martinsville Seven' in the presence of their descendants. The pardons were issued 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. For more than a year, 'Martinville 7 Coalition', a group including family members and community advocates, has been pushing for a pardon of those who were denied due process. "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," said James Grayson, son of Francis DeSales Grayson, said. "It's never too late to right a wrong."


Family members of the 'Martinsville Seven' recalled the horror and pain. "I was traumatized by this incident," said Curtis Millner, who was only 9 when his cousin Booker T. Millner was executed. "I'm looking for closure." Studies have shown that there was clear racial bias in executions with a defendant three times more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim of a crime is White than if the victim is Black. As per the report, in the modern era, 52% of the death row inmates were Black, when approximately 60% of the population is white. “Racial disparities are present at every stage of a capital case and get magnified as a case moves through the legal process,” said Robert Dunham, DPIC’s Executive Director, who is the report’s editor. “If you don’t understand the history — that the modern death penalty is the direct descendant of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow segregation — you won’t understand why. 


It was only in 1977 that the Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty for rape was cruel and unusual punishment. It was also found that in the state of Virginia, 45 prisoners executed for rape, between 1908 to 1951, were all Black men. Virginia has also executed more people than any other state. "While we can't change the past, I hope today's action brings them some small measure of peace," said Northam, who has issued his 604th pardon during his time in office.

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