RICHMOND, Va. - Governor Ralph Northam has granted posthumous pardons for the Martinsville Seven, a group of young Black men executed by the Commonwealth for alleged rape of a white woman in 1951.
“This is about righting wrongs,” said Governor Northam. “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. I’m grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance. While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace.”
According to the Governor’s office, these pardons are meant to 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.
The Martinsville Seven consisted of: 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). All seven were convicted and sentenced within eight days.
None of the defendants had an attorney present during their interrogation and some could not *read the confession papers that they signed. Each was tried by juries made entirely of white men.
Governor Northam announced the pardons 70 years after the executions in a meeting with descendants of the Martinsville Seven.