Martinsville Seven: Black men who were executed for raping a white woman granted pardons 70 years after their deaths

Martinsville Seven: Black men who were executed for raping a white woman granted pardons 70 years after their deaths



A group of Black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who were executed in 1951 after being convicted by all-White juries of raping a White woman, were on Tuesday August 31 pardoned by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia.



The men were all convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, 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.



The Martinsville case became a civil rights flash point shortly after the men were arrested in January 1949.



It was gathered that the woman who recounted walking past a group of Black men drinking by the railroad tracks in the Southside Virginia town in her court testimony which lasted for two hours, said one of them tackled her, before some of them raped her repeatedly, threatening to kill her if she screamed and dragged her into the woods after she briefly escaped.



Police quickly rounded up seven Black men and produced signed confessions. While all seven were said to have admitted having sex or attempting to have sex with the woman, their descriptions of events differed, and all pleaded not guilty to having sex by force.



Several of the men were illiterate and could not read their own confessions, and none had a lawyer present when they signed. They were convicted in just eight days by all-White juries.







Frank Hairston Jr. (18 years old), 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), of Martinsville, were then executed in February 1951.



However in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty in cases of rape amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.



Late last year, relatives and descendants of the executed men petitioned Northam to issue a posthumous pardon, at least the second time they had requested he do so. The families did not argue that the men were innocent but rather that they did not receive impartial justice.



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