Florida exonerates "Groveland Four" and apologize after 70 years for one of the ugliest racist episodes in state history
Florida House leaders on Tuesday passed an historic measure to exonerate four Black men who were wrongly accused of rape in 1949 in Groveland, Florida, “then tortured, murdered or unjustly imprisoned after one of the ugliest racist episodes in state history,” reports the Miami Herald:
Known as the Groveland Four, none of the four men—Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas—are still living, but members of their families were seated in the gallery of the House chamber when lawmakers voted 117-0 to unanimously join as sponsors of HCR 631. The measure exonerates the men and asks Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to expedite consideration of posthumous pardons.
“This resolution, while seemingly minute, symbolizes the great state of Florida looking those families in the eyes — families, with children, who grew up not knowing their fathers but only knew their records,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, a sponsor of the bill. “This resolution is us simply saying, ‘We’re sorry’— understanding we will never know or make up for the pain we have caused.”
The four men were accused of raping 17-year-old Norma Padgett in Groveland. Padgett, along with her estranged husband, told police that on the night of July 16, 1949, their car had broken down just outside of town. They claimed that four black men stopped, got out of their car and then raped her.
A similar measure is headed for a vote before the full Senate and is expected to go to the governor, notes the report.
We’re glad the families are getting some semblance of justice. But the legislature should take it a step further and also posthumously prosecute those who committed the murders, namely ex-Sheriff Willis McCall, who reportedly shot two of men, claiming they tried to escape on the way to court. Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, offered to take the case, which had risen to the US. Supreme Court, notes the Herald.