Seven Black men have been pardoned nearly 70 years after they were executed in 1951 for the alleged rape of a white woman.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted the posthumous pardons on Tuesday after meeting with family members of Francis DeSales Grayson, who was 37; Booker T. Millner, 19; Frank Hairston Jr., 19; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; James Luther Hairston, 20; Joe Henry Hampton, 19; and John Claybon Taylor, 21.
“While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven,” reads a press release, “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.” Northam is then quoted in the release, saying, “This is about righting wrongs. 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.”
Known as the “Martinsville Seven,” the men were convicted by an all-white jury of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia on Jan. 8, 1949. Four of the men were executed by electric chair on Feb. 2, 1951. The following week, the remaining three were also executed by electric chair.
James Walter Grayson, the son of Francis DeSales Grayson, spoke with the Associated Press after the pardons were granted.
“It means so much to me,” Grayson said. “I remember the very day the police came to the door. He kissed us and they took him away.”
Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson praised Gov. Northam for his decision. “Pardons should not have to be a part of the process to ensure a fair and equitable justice system, but unfortunately that’s been case for far too long and I’m happy we have a Governor that believes in using his clemency powers to right the wrongs and provide second chances,” Thomasson said in a news release. “Governor Northam is committed to criminal justice reform, and has made it a priority to thoroughly review and act on pardon petitions. We’re seeing the results today.”