In one of the many episodes from Florida’s atrociously racist past, lawmakers finally wanted to correct an injustice committed against a group of four Black men known as “The Groveland Four.”
In 2017, the Florida Legislature requested the state’s Clemency Board, led by Gov. Rick Scott, to posthumously pardon four Black men who were falsely accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman and assaulting her husband in 1949.
Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee (then a minor at age 16), Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin are the young Black men who make up the “The Groveland Four.”
Thomas fled and was killed by a posse several days later and 200 miles away; Greenlee, Shepherd and Irvin were arrested. They were beaten in jail to coerce confessions, but Irvin did not confess. The three survivors were convicted at trial by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life because he was only 16 at the time of the crime; the other two were sentenced to death.
Shepherd would later be shot and killed in cold blood by a sheriff in Lake County, Florida, after he lied and said that Irwin and Shepherd tried to escape. Irvin survived the attack and informed the FBI that the two men were killed.
Irvin’s case was retried and he was sentenced to life in prison by another all-white jury in 1951. He died in Lake County in 1969 after being paroled from prison a year prior.
In 2016, the City of Groveland, a suburb 30 miles outside of Orlando and Lake County each apologized to survivors of the four men for the injustices committed against them. The four were posthumously exonerated on April 18, 2017, by a resolution of the Florida House of Representatives. The state senate quickly passed a similar resolution, and lawmakers called on Florida Governor Rick Scott to officially pardon the men.
Scott and the other members of the Cabinet and Executive Clemency Board, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have basically remained silent regarding the request. Scott has essentially regurgitated the same cookie-cutter statement, most recently last week, saying: “That all options were being reviewed.”
“My expectations are really low,” state Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who sponsored the bill to exonerate the innocent men in 2017, said Monday morning.
Henrietta Irvin, Walter Irvin’s now elderly sister, has expressed her need for the State of Florida to make the in justice right.
Author Gary Corsair who wrote the 2012 book “Legal Lynching: The Sad Saga of the Groveland Four” has maintained contact with Irvin’s sister stated: “Henrietta Irving has gnarled hands that no longer work, a walker to get her from the bed to the bathroom, where her she cannot bathe herself, cases of Ensure to fill a stomach that’s no longer interested in food, a rundown Section 8 house she can no longer clean and the knowledge that her brother Walter was innocent.”
“She only wants and needs one thing the thing the State of Florida continues to withhold,” he added. “The state of Florida hasn’t gone the distance.”