Virginia Governor Pardons Seven Black Men Executed in 1951 for Alleged Rape of White Woman

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Aug. 31 granted posthumous pardons to seven Black men who were executed in 1951 for the alleged rape of a white woman in the city of Martinsville.

The seven Black men who came to be known as the “Martinsville Seven” were all convicted by an all-white male jury 70 years ago for allegedly raping Ruby Stroud Floyd, a 32-year-old white woman. Their trial and sentencing took place within eight days.

While the pardons do not address the guilt of the Black men, they “serve as recognition from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially-biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants,” according to a statement released by Northam’s office, along with a copy of the pardon grant.

The statement also said that the pardons recognized “the disturbing lack of due process in their trials and convictions” and that the men did not understand the confessions they signed.

“This is about righting wrongs,” 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. I’m grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance. While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace,” Northam further said.

The seven Black men, whose ages range from 18 to 37 years, were Frank Hairston Jr., Booker T. Millner, Francis DeSales Grayson, Howard Lee Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, and John Clabon Taylor.

The statement further noted that all 45 prisoners executed for rape in Virginia from 1908 to 1951 were Black men.

Earlier this year, Virginia abolished the death penalty .

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