Seventy-two years after four Black men were accused of raping a white woman in Florida, a state circuit court judge issued a ruling clearing them of the alleged crime. The move is a rare correction of a Jim Crow-era injustice.
Occurring six years before the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till in Mississippi, the men were accused of kidnapping and raping a young white woman at gunpoint when she was driving home from a dance with her husband. Collectively known as the Groveland Four, the men ranged in age from 16 to 26.
Being accused of violating a white woman Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, never stood a chance in a system that conspired with white vigilantes. An NBC News report detailed the violent backlash on the local Black community. Mobs of white men set out on the Black community.
Two of the men were killed before they could ever stand trial. Reports indicate that Thomas was shot over 400 times not long after the allegation surfaced. Irvin was killed by the local sheriff while being transported after winning an appeal in 1951.
A review of the evidence suggests officials possibly fabricated evidence against the men, including a pair of pants that allegedly had semen on the front but was never tested. Tests in September revealed no evidence of semen.
Monday’s decision is the latest step at atonement for the state. News reports indicate the state legislature issued an apology and recommended the four men be exonerated in 2017. As previously reported by NewsOne, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a posthumous pardon of the four men back in 2019.
A monument honoring the men was unveiled in February 2020.
Author Gilbert King who wrote a book in 2012 about the case, praised the decision, calling the original sin an “abomination of justice.”
According to the Associated Press, a grandson of the prosecutor involved in the original case provided evidence that the officials knew there had not been a rape. Letters from 1971 were said to contain evidence of a conspiracy by the sheriff to cover up an illegal gambling operation. (Read the full article here).
The horrific attack on the Black community of Groveland is another example of the endemic nature of white vigilante violence at times encouraged by local law enforcement.
“It’s a phenomenal final chapter, but the last page of the chapter is the one I like the most, it has only two words on it, “the end. The end,” Beverly Robinson, a relative of Shepherd, said in an interview with WFTV. “Decades of suffering.”
Exonerated! Wrongly Convicted Black Folks Whose Names Have Been Cleared
1. Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil IslamSource:Getty 1 of 17
2. Juwan Deering2 of 17
3. Herbert Alford
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A Michigan man who spent nearly five years in custody is suing Hertz for failing to produce in a timely manner a receipt that would have proved his innocence long before he was convicted of a 2011 murder. https://t.co/kZaI5tdOv4— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 12, 2021
4. Walter Forbes
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“I don’t hold contempt for the people who lied to convict me ... The reason is selfish: I wasn’t going to allow them to destroy me," said Walter Forbes, freed and exonerated last week after 37 years with the help of @UofMInnocence. https://t.co/WfanIitchU— The Innocence Project (@innocence) December 14, 2020
5. Termaine Joseph Hicks
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An innocent Philadelphia man has been freed after spending 19 years in prison because two police officers wrongly claimed he’d raped a woman and then shot at them, when he’d in fact saved her from a different man .Attorneys for Termaine Joseph Hicks claim cops made up the story . pic.twitter.com/FJp5DQUMoQ— HJ (Hank) Ellison (@hjtherealj) December 18, 2020
6. Clifford Williams, Nathan Myers
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After a combined 86 years incarcerated for a crime they did not commit, Clifford Williams Jr. and his nephew, Nathan Myers, were exonerated and released last week! Mr. Myers was 18 when he was arrested and is now 61. Mr. Williams was 33 and is now 76. https://t.co/EH2qPCspEj— Equal Justice Initiative (@eji_org) April 5, 2019
7. Calvin BrightSource:WUSA9 7 of 17
8. Kevin Baker, Sean Washington
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Kevin Baker and Sean Washington received life terms in 1996 that were overturned on appeal in December https://t.co/MSWoxkwPzi— Courier-Post (@cpsj) February 4, 2020
9. Theophalis Wilson
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Theophalis Wilson was 17-years-old when he was falsely accused of a triple murder in Philadelphia and sentenced to life in prison. Now, 28 years later, he finally has his freedom. He spoke with @KeithJones https://t.co/mVDISp68hy pic.twitter.com/RQ2pEdZBfM— NBC10 Philadelphia (@NBCPhiladelphia) January 22, 2020
10. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart
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And they are out: Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart walk out of the Baltimore city courthouse after 36 yrs for a crime they didn’t do: pic.twitter.com/5UDGWMZmOB— Tom Jackman (@TomJackmanWP) November 25, 2019
11. Deandre Charles11 of 17
12. Exonerated Five - Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise12 of 17
13. Anthony Ray Hinton
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Name: Anthony Ray Hinton, who was on Alabama’s Death Row for nearly 30 years for a murder he didn’t commit. In 2018, he wrote about his experience in the NYT bestseller, The Sun Does Shine.— City of Birmingham (@cityofbhamal) October 4, 2019
Occupation: Works in community education with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery pic.twitter.com/EwiaJueimb
14. Lamar Johnson14 of 17
15. Wilbert Jones
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Louisiana man freed from prison after serving 43 years for a crime he did not commit. Wilbert Jones was arrested in 1971 at the age of 19 and convicted of rape in 1974. A judge overturned his conviction weeks ago. He still had to pay $2,000 bail before becoming a free man today. pic.twitter.com/LYV4gbTPOf— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) November 15, 2017
16. Xavier DavisSource:Courtesy of Xavier Davis 16 of 17
17. Huwe Burton
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2,372nd Exon: Huwe Burton was convicted in 1991 for stabbing his mother to death when he was 16. He was exonerated on Jan 24th after an investigation showed that his confession was coerced and that his mother's real killer was likely a downstairs neighbor. https://t.co/TM3f76moQ5 pic.twitter.com/rsU1NlPr2y— Exoneration Registry (@exonerationlist) February 4, 2019