Northam Posthumously Pardons ‘Martinsville Seven’ Who Were Executed 70 Years Ago for Raping White Woman
Christopher Eberhart, Daily Mail, August 31, 2021
The ‘Martinsville Seven’ – seven black men who were executed for a 1949 rape of a white woman in Virginia – were posthumously pardoned by the governor on Tuesday after being deprived of their due process rights.
The men were convicted in 1951 after a speedy trial by all-white juries and given ‘a racially-biased death sentence,’ Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said.
The ‘Martinsville Seven’ were all convicted of raping Ruby Stroud Floyd, 32, a white woman who had gone to a predominantly black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia, on January 8, 1949, to collect money for clothes she had sold.
Northam issued ‘simple pardons’ on Tuesday for 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.
They were accused and found guilty of gang raping Floyd for 90 minutes. She said she had been raped at least 13 times.
A simple pardon doesn’t exonerate the men. It’s meant to highlight the racial inequality of the cases and the lack of due process, Northam said.
‘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,’ Democratic Gov. Northam said in a statement.
During the 11-day trials, prosecutors presented medical evidence of Floyd’s physical injuries and accounts from black witnesses, whom Floyd appealed to for help after the assault.
The defense argued that Floyd consented to the sex by failing to forcibly resist the men.
Some of the defendants were drunk at the time of their arrests, were illiterate and couldn’t read the confessions that they signed, didn’t have an attorney present during interrogation and were convicted by all-white juries.
At the time, the case attracted pleas for mercy from around the world and became a lightning rod for racial justice.
The push for pardons gained steam in December when advocates and descendants of the men – spearheaded by the Martinsville 7 Project – asked Northam to issue posthumous pardons.
After meeting with about a dozen descendants of the men and their advocates, Northam announced the simple pardons on Tuesday during a presentation where the cries and sobs could be heard from some of the Martinsville Seven’s decedents.
‘These men were executed because they were black and that’s not right,’ Northam said.
The Martinsville 7 Project’s petition does not argue that the men were innocent, but says their trials were unfair and the punishment was extreme and unjust.