Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons Tuesday to seven Black men who were executed in 1951 for the rape of a white woman, a case that attracted pleas for mercy from around the world and in recent years has been denounced as an example of racial disparity in the use of the death penalty, per the AP. Northam announced the pardons after meeting with about a dozen descendants of the men and their advocates. Cries and sobs could be heard from some of the descendants after Northam's announcement. The “Martinsville Seven," as the men became known, were all convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, a white woman who had gone to a predominantly black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia, on Jan. 8, 1949, to collect money for clothes she had sold.
Four of the men were executed in Virginia's electric chair on Feb. 2, 1951, and the remaining three a few days later. All were tried by all-white juries. At the time, rape was a capital offense, but Northam said the death penalty for rape was almost entirely applied to Black people. The seven men, most in their late teens or early 20s, were: Walter Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Lee Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker Millner, and John Clabon Taylor. “These men were executed because they were Black and that’s not right,” Northam said. The pardons do not address the guilt of the men, but a news release says they “were tried without adequate due process and received a racially-biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants.”
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