Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Finally, a pardon for the Groveland Four Editorial: Finally, a pardon for the Groveland Four

Newly sworn Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet deliver long-awaited justice.
Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee after their arrests in 1949. The men, along with Ernest Thomas, came to be known as the Groveland Four.
Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee after their arrests in 1949. The men, along with Ernest Thomas, came to be known as the Groveland Four.
Published Jan. 12, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the new state Cabinet held their first meeting Friday and made history. Correcting a longstanding injustice, the governor and the Cabinet officially pardoned the Groveland Four, the four African American men who were accused of raping a white woman in 1949 and then victimized by a justice system rotted by racism. The action marks an important acknowledgment of a dark episode in Florida's past that should be remembered but never repeated.

On the night of July 16, 1949, 17-year-old Norma Padgett and her husband were driving outside the Lake County town of Groveland when their car broke down. Four black men stopped to help, but then, Padgett said, they beat her husband and dragged her away and sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. The infamous Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall arrested Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Ernest Thomas and Charles Greenlee, who was only 16 and had come to town looking for work. Within days, Thomas, a World War II veteran, escaped from the county jail and was lynched by a mob in the Panhandle. The other three were beaten in custody until they confessed and were convicted by an all-white jury.

MORE COVERAGE: Gov. Ron DeSantis calls the case 'a miscarriage of justice'

The injustice did not stop there. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the convictions, but as McCall was transporting Shepherd and Irvin to their second trial three years later, he shot them in cold blood, saying they had tried to escape. Shepherd died on the spot. Irvin faced trial again and lost in the face of manufactured evidence. Gov. LeRoy Collins commuted his sentence to life, and Irvin was paroled in 1968. Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.

Friday's clemency hearing was the culmination of years of work to pardon the men. Elected officials from Lake County attended, as well as legislators, historians and family members of the four who believe the crime never happened. Then Padgett spoke, insisting she has always told the truth and still relives the horror of her attack every day. But the purpose of the hearing was not to re-investigate or re-litigate the case.

That possibility was lost 70 years ago, when Thomas was lynched and the others lost their freedom to a system corrupted by racists bent on vengeance. It was buried deeper when McCall murdered Shepherd and when Irvin, given a reprieve by the nation's highest court, was deprived a fair trial again. Those perversions of justice are what was finally corrected Friday.

The Florida Legislature unanimously passed a resolution in 2017 "offering a formal and heartfelt apology to these victims of racial hatred and to their families" and asking former Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to expedite the pardon process. Scott never made it a priority. It should stand as an early mark of his character and independence that DeSantis took up the cause on his busy first week in office. He noted his belief in the Constitution and in "getting a fair shake." The Groveland Four never got that, and now the official state record says so.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

  1. From left, Democratic presidential candidates, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Las Vegas, hosted by NBC News and MSNBC. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  2. Rep. Jamie Grant, R- Tampa, center,  is congratulated by House members after passage of the Amendment 4 bill, May 3, 2019. Florida lawmakers lost another round Wednesday, with a federal appeals court ruling the restrictions on felon voting rights are unconstitutional.
  3. It's not a bad time to be looking for a job. [Scott Keeler, Times]
  4. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, right, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature during his State of the State address in Tallahassee.
  5. No issue is too small for Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee to attack citizen initiatives and local control.
  6. This photo shows multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns.
  7. A boy named Jamal, 12, looks for an item in his new room at Joshua House in Lutz in 2016.
  8. Megan Davila, 25, a Child Protection Investigator in training, along with Jacque Salary, 46, a Child Protection Investigator and mentor for almost seven years, pictured with their case files in the family visitation room at the Child Protection Investigation Division of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Investigators are the front line of the foster care system, responsible for sometimes life-or-death decisions about whether to remove a child because of issues like domestic violence and drug use in the home.
  9. The Florida Senate is taking one step forward this year on criminal justice reform – requiring racial and ethnic impact statements for legislation we consider, writes State Sen. Jeff Brandes.
  10. Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Wednesday in its final committee stop.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement