On January 11, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Cabinet granted a posthumous pardon to four men who were African American who allegedly raped a white woman in 1949.
In 1949, Norma Padget, a white teenage, accused four African American men of raping and kidnapping her in a car.
The four men were Charles Greenlee (who was 16 and a minor), Earnest Thomas, Walter Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd.
The infamous rape case became known as the Groveland Four and has been considered one of the momentous injustices in Florida history.
Thomas ran away. One thousand men formed a mob that found him 200 miles from the crime scene. They found Thomas sleeping under a tree and shot him 400 times. White individuals went to a black neighborhood, firing guns into people’s homes and burned them to the ground.
While in jail, Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were beaten to obtain a rape confession, which they refused to do.
The young men were found guilty of rape by an all-white jury. Irvin and Shepherd both received a death sentence. Due to his age, Greenly was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1951, Thurgood Marshall filed for a retrial and the United States Supreme Court agreed after hearing the appeals.
The Supreme Court said that the men did not receive a fair trial by their peers due to the fact African Americans were not permitted on the jury, and also because of the publicity the rape case received.
In November 1951, while in custody, Sheriff Willis McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd. McCall claimed that while being moved from Raiford State Prison for the new trial, they tried to escape. Shepherd died instantly. Irvin survived and told the FBI that McCall shot him and his deputy James L. Yates, also shot him to try to finish the job.
Irvin had his second rape trial, and again was assigned an all-white jury. He was found guilty of rape. He sentenced remained the same, death.
McCall and Yates were never charged for their crimes.
At the second trial, Irvin’s jurors were all white. His sentence remained the same, and he was sentenced to death. Governor Leroy Collins, who was recently elected, commuted his death sentence to life.
Irvin received parole in 1968 for good behavior. While traveling, he died in February 1969 from a heart attack.
Charles Greenlee was paroled in 1960 for good behavior and died in 2012.
In 2017, the Florida Senate and House voted unanimously to issue a formal apology to the families of the men. They also asked Rick Scott to issued a formal pardon. Scott ignored their requests. Ron DeSantis replaced Rick Scott as governor on Jan. 8.
At the clemency board meeting, families of the men attended and told the Cabinet and Governor DeSantis that there was an extreme amount of evidence that the rape did not occur and subsequently the accused were innocent.
The woman also attended the clemency hearing. She was in a wheelchair and said that the rape happened. She said they dragged her from the car and held a gun to her head.
After the clemency hearing, Senator Gary Farmer, who was one of the individuals who sponsored the resolution in 2017 to offer an apology to the family, said he was disappointed in the woman’s comments. Farmer also said that she is at the end of her life and she has the chance to tell the truth, and seek forgiveness for putting the men and their families through this. It is sad that she has the chance to fix this lie and chooses not to. The evidence says the men did not rape her.
Written By Barbara Sobel
The Washington Post: 70 years after ‘miscarriage of justice,’ Florida pardons four black men accused of rape by white woman
NBC News: Four black men accused of 1949 rape of white woman in Florida are pardoned
News 4: Florida pardons Groveland Four in 1949 rape case
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr – Creative Commons License