Governor Northam: Posthumously Pardon the Martinsville 7

Governor Northam: Posthumously Pardon the Martinsville 7

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Martinsville 7 Project started this petition to Governor Ralph S. Northam

Please join us in calling for justice for the Martinsville 7 by urging Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to posthumously pardon them & apologize on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia for their unfair trials & executions in February, 1951. 

The Martinsville 7 are: Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker T. Millner, and John Clabon Taylor. The Martinsville 7 were African-American young men accused of the rape of a white woman, Ruby Stroud Floyd, on January 8, 1949 in Martinsville, Virginia. The young men were arrested, interrogated & charged with rape & attempted rape. Defense lawyers claimed that the initial confessions were forced by the local sheriff.  In addition, a reverend close to the accused men told reporters at the Richmond Afro-American that the Martinsville police acted improperly during their  questioning of the accused men. All of the men, except for Grayson, were in their late teens and early twenties, yet were alone during questioning without the presence of an attorney. In addition to being without counsel, the accused were also under the influence of alcohol while being interrogated which should have caused police to delay the interviews.

Altogether, the courts held six trials (one trial had two defendants who wanted to be tried together), one right after the other and no trial lasted more than one day each. While Black people could serve on juries in Martinsville at that time, prosecutors struck potential Black jurors. Ultimately all 72 jurors for the six trials were white.The all-white juries convicted the Martinsville 7 & sentenced them all to death, devoting no more than two hours to their deliberations. All-White juries generally convict Black defendants 16 percent more often than White defendants, but when at least one Black person was on the jury, conviction rates for Black and White defendants are nearly identical.The NAACP sought appeals for the Martinsville 7. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the appeals on behalf of the Martinsville 7 and the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case and rejected appeals to the court without review. 

The NAACP and the Civil Rights Congress led an advocacy & media campaign to save the Martinsville 7. The campaign's aim was to show the racial disparities in how these young men were sentenced. Judges rejected their appeals and Governor Battle declined their  petitions for clemency. 

Lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to use statistics to challenge the racial disparities in the death sentences of these young men, the first case where this strategy was pursued according to legal experts. Before the Civil War, only Black men were subjected to the death penalty for rape. Even though the law changed in 1866, the practice of only subjecting Black defendants to the death penalty for rape continued. It was almost exclusively applied when the defendant was Black and the victim was white. 

On February 2 and 5, 1951, the Martinsville 7 were executed in Richmond, Virginia.  

You can help right this miscarriage of justice by taking action now! 

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