Posted on December 30, 2021

State Approves Historical Markers for Martinsville Seven, Others

Cardinal News, December 22, 2021

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has approved 14 new historical markers, with five of them recognizing the civil rights history of Southwest and Southside Virginia and a sixth recognizing a rose expert from Lynchburg.

The best-known historical event recognized is the case of the Martinsville Seven, seven Black men who were executed in 1951 for raping a white woman. In August, Gov. Ralph Northam posthumously pardoned all seven men, saying it was “recognition from the Commonwealth” that the men did not receive a fair trial.

Other civil rights-themed markers approved include a Reconstruction-era civil rights figure from Lynchburg, a historic Black church in Buckingham County, an historic Black school in Mecklenburg County and a Black Olympian from Botetourt County,

Here are the markers announced in a release today from from the Department of Historic Resources. Here’s what it says about them:


Martinsville Seven

Here in 1949, six all-white, all-male juries convicted seven black men of the rape of a white woman. All seven men were sentenced to death. On appeal, NAACP attorneys submitted the first petition to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that capital punishment had been disproportionately applied against African Americans in violation of the 14th Amendment. Despite international attention and petitions for clemency, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed the men in Feb. 1951, the most executions for a rape in U.S. history. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that execution for rape was cruel and unusual punishment. Gov. Ralph Northam issued posthumous pardons to the Martinsville Seven on 31 Aug. 2021.
Sponsor: Eric Helms Monday
Locality: Martinsville
Proposed Location: 1 East Main St.

Norvel LaFallette Ray Lee (1924-1992)

Norvel Lee was born in Botetourt County and grew up two miles northeast of here. He joined the Army Air Forces in 1943, was trained in Tuskegee, AL, and later retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel. In 1948, Lee was arrested in Covington for refusing to leave the whites-only section of a train car. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in 1949 on the grounds that the state could not enforce segregation laws on a local train if the passenger held a ticket for interstate travel. In 1952, Lee earned an Olympic gold medal in boxing in Helsinki, Finland. A graduate of Howard University, he was later a corrections officer and educator in Washington, D.C.
Sponsor: Nelson Harris
Locality: Botetourt County
Proposed Location: east side of Route 220 near intersection with Route 622 (This marker was previously reported here.)

East End High School

East End High School opened near this location in Sept. 1953 to serve African American students during the segregation era. Mecklenburg County built the school with a grant from the Battle Fund, established under Gov. John S. Battle as Virginia’s first program for providing direct aid to localities for school construction. Students came from Mecklenburg County Training School, the Thyne Institute, and other schools in the eastern portion of the county. E. N. Taliaferro was East End’s only principal. The last class graduated on 5 June 1969. Mecklenburg County schools were fully desegregated that fall under a federal court order, and the building became a junior high.

Sponsor: East End High School Historical Highway Marker Committee
Locality: Mecklenburg County
Proposed Location: Intersection of SR 650 (Dockery Rd.) and Highways 1 and 58


Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc.

In 1965, Paul E. Sullivan rented one of his two nearby homes to Theodore R. Freeman Jr. When Sullivan attempted to transfer a pool membership to the Freeman family, the board of Little Hunting Park denied the request as the Freemans were Black. They also terminated the Sullivans’ membership for protesting. Both families filed a lawsuit in 1966 and pursued the case through several appeals. In Dec. 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc., that the exclusion of an African American family from membership in a community recreational association constituted illegal housing discrimination. The case led to the desegregation of neighborhood clubs across the U.S.
Sponsor: DHR
Locality: Fairfax County
Proposed Location: near 7000 Canterbury Lane