Martinsville Seven: Young African-American Men Convicted and Executed for Rape in 1951

1 Posted by - April 2, 2023 - LATEST POSTS

The Martinsville Seven were a group of seven African American men from Martinsville, Virginia, who were convicted and executed for raping a white woman in 1949. At the time of their arrest, all but one was between the ages of 20 and 23.

Ruby Stroud Floyd accused thirteen black men of raping her while she passed through a poor black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia. First arrested for the crime was Frank Hairston, Jr. and Booker T. Millner, and soon James Luther Hairston, Howard Lee Hairston, John Clabon Taylor, Francis DeSales Grayson, then James Henry Hampton were gathered as additional suspects. The group of young men soon got the name The Martinsville Seven.

Floyd identified two of her rapists as Grayson and Hampton, but she could not identify the others.  After being questioned by local police officers, the defendants initially confessed to committing or witnessing the crime. By the spring of 1949, all seven men were charged with rape.

Judge Kennon C. Whittle of the Martinsville Circuit Court granted requests to hold individual trials. There were no black jurors because the prosecution vetoed all potential black jurors. The trial lasted for eleven days, during which the jury heard testimonies from both sides, including medical evidence of Floyd’s physical injuries and accounts from black witnesses whom Floyd appealed to for help after the assault.

All six juries convicted the young men of rape and recommended the death penalty. NAACP officials focused national attention to the case, hoping to delay or overturn the death penalty judgment. NAACP lawyers argued on appeal that Virginia’s legal code was hardly race neutral, since whites convicted of rape “seldom, if ever” received the death penalty.

Despite the efforts put forth by the NAACP, four of the Martinsville Seven were electrocuted on February 2, 1951. The remaining three were electrocuted on February 5.


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