Exonerate the Groveland Four

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In 1949, a 17-year-old white woman named Norma Padgett, falsely accused four young black men in Groveland, Florida of raping her. All four men are now dead, their lives destroyed by these false allegations, but their families hope clear their names posthumously.

Within days of the accusation, one of the young men, Ernest Thomas, was hunted down and killed by a white mob. I reached out to one of the daughters of these men to see how I could help and I learned that neither of these four boys were in the vicinity of the crime and they didn’t even know each other. And in 2012, an FBI document surfaced which included an interview with the doctor who examined Padgett and found he could not confirm a rape had ever occurred.

I learned about “The Groveland Four,” Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin, in my American history class this year. As a Florida native, I couldn’t believe how shocking the story was. In a book about the case, I read that neighbors who saw Padgett after the alleged attack said she was neither disheveled nor panicked and didn’t believe she was raped, but refused to testify for the defense. “Wouldn’t do to be called nigger lover,” one said.

The remaining three men were convicted and two of them, Shepherd and Irvin, were shot by a sheriff in 1951, who claimed they tried to escape. Shepherd was killed in the shooting and Irvin seriously injured.

The 1950’s were a time of intense racial violence and prejudice, “Brown vs. the Board of Education” required the desegregation of schools and tens of thousands of protesters marched to enforce their right to integration. The backlash against black people was intensified, especially in the South. The Groveland case was swept under the rug by all those involved and the state of Florida; many residents of Florida are not even aware that this happened.

The families of these men lost their sons, brothers, and fathers and we can’t bring them back, but we can give them some peace of mind by having these men exonerated for a crime they clearly did not commit.

Please help right this wrong by calling on Florida Governor Rick Scott to exonerate the Groveland Four.

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