Miami — Florida’s governor and clemency board granted pardons Friday to four black men who were accused of rape in a notorious case that is now seen as a shameful example of racial injustice. It took 70 years for this day to come for the Groveland Four.
When a white woman claimed she was raped by four young black men outside Groveland in 1949, the Ku Klux Klan torched black neighborhoods and four men were falsely accused. One, Ernest Thomas, was killed by a mob. The others, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were beaten into confessing.
“My father was tortured, he was hung down in the basement over a hot pipe by his hands,” said Carol Greenlee, Charles Greenlee’s daughter.
Imprisoned for more than a decade, a humble box made of matchsticks from the prison yard was the only gift he could give his young daughter, and Carol cherishes it still.
After an all-white jury convicted the men, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall won them a new trial. But the local sheriff, Willis McCall, shot and killed one of them in cold blood, claiming he tried to escape.
Through the years, supporters of the Groveland Four have petitioned for a full pardon, even though the men have all passed away.
There was one surprise at Friday’s clemency hearing. The alleged rape victim, who hasn’t spoken publicly about the case in decades, defended her story.
“I am not no liar. If I had to go to court today I could tell you the same story,” said Norma Padgett.
But an independent investigation proved they were innocent, and on Friday, the board agreed, removing the stain of injustice.
Greenlee said she carries no bitterness and neither did her father.
“He said ‘Forgive them. My father said, ‘Hatred, anger, destroys you from within. Love brings you out,'” Greenlee said.