Governor Posthumously Pardons “Martinsville Seven”

( The seven black men — known as the “Martinsville Seven” – who were executed in 1951 for the 1949 rape of a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia were posthumously pardoned by Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday.

Northam issued the pardon on the grounds that all seven were deprived of their due process rights after a speedy trial by all-white juries resulted in “a racially-biased death sentence.”

The “Martinsville Seven” were convicted of raping Ruby Stroud Floyd, a 32-year-old white woman who had gone to the predominantly black neighborhood in Martinsville on January 8, 1949 in order to collect money for clothes she had sold. Floyd said she had been raped at least thirteen times in ninety minutes.

Northam issued what is called “simple pardons” for the seven men. However, a “simple pardon” doesn’t exonerate them of the crime. Instead, Northam issued it to highlight the racial inequality of the case and the lack of due process.

During the trials for the seven men, prosecutors provided medical evidence of Floyd’s injuries, and accounts from the black witnesses whom Floyd appealed to for help after she was assaulted.

The defense argued that because Floyd failed to forcibly resist the men, she had consented to the sex.

Each of the six trials (two men were tried together) lasted only one day, and every jury was made up of only white jurors.

Several of the defendants were drunk at the time of their arrests. Some were illiterate and couldn’t read the confessions that they signed. And some didn’t have an attorney present during interrogation.

All seven were executed in Virginia’s electric chair in February 1951.

Rape was a capital offense in Virginia at the time. However, Governor Northam pointed out during Tuesday’s announcement that the application of the death penalty in rape convictions was almost entirely applied to black people.

In issuing the simple pardons for Frank Hairston Jr., 18; Booker T. Millner, 19; Francis DeSales Grayson, 37; Howard Lee Hairston, 18; James Luther Hairston, 20; Joe Henry Hampton, 19; and John Claybon Taylor, 21, Governor Northam said “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.”