The ‘Martinsville Seven’ Pardoned 70 Years After Being Executed

By: Alyssa Wilson

A group of seven Black men who were executed after being accused of raping a white woman has been pardoned 70 years after their deaths.  

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted the posthumous pardon to the men on Tuesday. “While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven, 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,” he 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.”  

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The men of the Martinsville Seven were 37-year-old Francis DeSales Grayson, 19-year-old Booker T. Millner, 19-year-old Frank Hairston Jr., 18-year-old Howard Lee Hairston, 20-year-old James Luther Hairston, 19-year-old Joe Henry Hampton and 21-year-old John Claybon Taylor. They were convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd on January 8, 1949, CNN reported 

Stroud was in the predominately Black neighborhood of Martinsville, Virginia, to collect money for clothes she sold. Family members of the men said the group was interrogated without the presence of a lawyer and their confessions were coerced. Four of the men were executed by the electric chair on February 2, 1951, and the remaining three were executed three days later.  

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Governor Northam joined the descendants of the men Tuesday as he signed the ceremonial pardons. According to WWBT the family members, part of the Martinsville 7 Coalition, had been pushing for the posthumous pardon. “They did not deserve to die,” James Grayson, the son of Francis DeSales Grayson, said. “Governor Northam should render an apology to the families of these seven men, stating that they should not have been executed. It’s never too late to right a wrong.”  

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here. 

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