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7 Black men executed in 1951 for rape granted posthumous pardons

The Martinsville Seven were convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, a white woman who visited a predominantly Black community in 1949 to collect money for outfits she sold.

electric chair AFP via Getty Images

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons to seven Black men who were executed for the rape of a white woman back in 1951.

On Tuesday (Aug. 31), Northam announced the pardons after meeting with descendants of the men, who were known as the Martinsville Seven, and their advocates. “These men were executed because they were Black, and that’s not right,” the governor said. “Their punishment did not fit the crime. They should not have been executed.”

“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,” Northam added.

The Martinsville Seven — Frank Hairston Jr., Francis DeSales Grayson, Booker Millner, Howard Lee Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, James Luther Hairston, and John Clabon Taylor — were convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd, a white woman who visited a predominantly Black community in 1949 to collect money for outfits she sold. The men were not given due process because of their skin color and were convicted and sentenced to death within eight days.

Four of the men were executed in an electric chair on Feb. 2, 1951. The remaining men were electrocuted three days later. At the time of the alleged incident, rape was considered a capital offense.

Last December, descendants and advocates of the men asked Northam to issue posthumous pardons, citing unfair trials and unjust punishment. “The Martinsville Seven were not given adequate due process ‘simply for being Black,’ they were sentenced to death for a crime that a white person would not have been executed for ‘simply for being Black,’ and they were killed, by the Commonwealth, ‘simply for being Black,’” the advocates wrote in their letter to the governor.

In March, Northam abolished the death penalty in the state of Virginia, which had the second-highest number of executions in the country.

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