On Aug. 31, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued posthumous pardons to a gang of Black males who were hanged in the 1949 rape of a white lady.
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 of Martinsville, were hanged in 1951 for raping Ruby Stroud Floyd, a 32-year-old white woman, in 1949. On Jan. 8, 1949, Stroud went to a predominantly Black neighborhood to receive cash for items she had sold.
The men, collectively known as the “Martinsville Seven,” were all tried by all-white juries and constitute the state’s biggest number of persons executed for a single-person offense.
“While these pardons do not absolve the seven of their culpability, they do serve as acknowledgment from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without appropriate due process and received a racially discriminatory death sentence not applied equally to white defendants,” Northam’s office said Tuesday.
Northam made the statement after meeting with descendants of the men and those who campaign for them. All of the persons executed for rape in Virginia through the electric chair between 1908 and 1951 were black. Four of the men were executed in the electric chair on Feb. 2, 1951, while the other three were electrocuted three days later. The death penalty for rape was declared harsh and unusual punishment by the Supreme Court in 1977.
Family members of the individuals who were executed claim that they were questioned without an attorney and that their admissions were forced under the threat of mob violence. Since last year, the Martinsville 7 Coalition has advocated for posthumous executions, citing the killings as an example of racial inequity in the use of the death penalty.
Virginia, which executed more people than any other state save Texas, repealed the death sentence earlier this year.
Northam stated, “These folks were executed because they were Black, and that is not right.” “Their punishment was inexcusably harsh. They shouldn’t have been put to death.”
Francis DeSales Grayson was executed while his son James Walter Grayson was four years old. “Thank you, Jesus,” he remarked on Tuesday. Lord, thank you… It means a great deal to me.”
Northam has issued 604 pardons since entering office, more than the previous nine governors combined. The Martinsville Seven’s posthumous pardons are the first in the state’s history.
“No matter who you are or how you appear, we all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, egalitarian, and gets it right. For their devotion and perseverance, I am grateful to the Martinsville Seven’s advocates and families. While we can’t undo what happened in the past, I hope today’s action provides them some degree of peace,” Northam added.
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