7 Black Men Executed for Rape of White Woman Given Posthumous Pardons

Gov. Ralph Northam granted posthumous pardons to seven Black men who were executed in 1951 for the rape of a white woman, the Associated Press reported.

The governor announced the pardons Tuesday. He had met with “dozens” of descendants of the men — known as the “Martinsville Seven” — and their advocates, according to the AP. 

Advocates did not contest the convictions but instead argued that the trials were unfair and that the death penalty was unjustly applied to the Black men. On Tuesday, Northam said that the death penalty was nearly always applied to only Black people, according to the AP.

“These men were executed because they were Black and that’s not right,” Northam said.

“While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven, they serve as recognition from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially-biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants,” a statement from Northam’s office said

The men were then convicted of raping 32-year-old Ruby Stroud Floyd on January 8, 1949. She had gone to a predominately Black neighborhood to collect money for clothing she had sold, the AP reported. 

On February 2, 1951, four of the men were executed by an electric chair. The remaining three were executed by the electric chair on February 5, 1951, according to the AP. All seven of the men were tried by all-white juries.

From 1908 to 1951, 45 people executed for rape, which was then a capital offense, by electric chair were Black, according to the AP. 

In March, Gov. Northam abolished the death penalty in Virginia. 

The seven men, most in their late teens or early 20s, were: Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr.; Howard Lee Hairston; James Luther Hairston; Joe Henry Hampton; Booker Millner; and John Clabon Taylor, according to the AP. 

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