On August 31, 2021, family members of Francis DeSales Grayson, Booker T. Millner, Frank Hairston, James Hairston, Howard Lee Hairston, John C. Taylor, and Joe Hampton, collectively known as the Martinsville Seven, will host a press conference at noon at the Belltower (southwestern corner of Capitol Square, at the intersection of Ninth and Franklin Streets) in Richmond, Virginia.
Allies are invited to stand with them in support of a posthumous pardon for the Martinsville Seven as they share the outcome of the meeting with the governor.
“Governor Northam committed to address Virginia’s racial injustices and pardoning these men and apologizing to their families would be one step to right an egregious wrong,” said Rudolph C. McCollum, Jr. Esq., former Mayor of Richmond and a family member of two of the Martinsville Seven.
The conference will follow a meeting for the families with Northam to discuss their request that the governor posthumously pardon the men and to apologize on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia for their executions. The families will be joined by a delegation from Martinsville where a resolution was recently unanimously approved by the Martinsville City Council.
“They did not deserve to die. Governor Northam should render an apology to the families of these seven men, stating that they should not have been executed,” said James Grayson, son of Francis DeSales Grayson, one of the Martinsville Seven. “It’s never too late to right a wrong.”
The Martinsville Seven were executed nearly seventy years ago, February 1951, after being charged, convicted and sentenced for the alleged rape of Ruby Floyd, a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia in 1949. Their families believe that the men were interrogated under duress, without the presence of a lawyer, and that their confessions were coerced under threat of mob violence. In advance of their trials, the local media outlet, the Martinsville Bulletin, published articles that implied that the men were guilty. The circuit court held back-to-back one day trials over the course of a week with all white juries.
“The justice system failed these men and that resulted in their premature deaths” Faye Holland, executive director of the Martinsville 7, Inc., said. “This case is a miscarriage of justice, and our community has recognized that by passing this City Council resolution to urge Governor Northam to posthumously pardon the Martinsville Seven.”
In Virginia, the law provided for the death penalty for rape. However, in practice, only Black men were subjected to the death penalty for rape even though the statute had changed in 1866. At the time of these executions, the superintendent of the Virginia prison system wrote a letter in 1950 that underscored these disparities by stating that there were no white men on record ever executed for rape in Virginia.
For additional information on the Martinsville 7, visit: https://martinsville7.org/.