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Lake County To Unveil Groveland Four Monument

From left, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Samuel Shepherd were wrongfully prosecuted for rape in 1949. A fourth man, Ernest Thomas, was killed during a manhunt before he could be arrested. Photo: Gary Corsair
From left, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Samuel Shepherd were wrongfully prosecuted for rape in 1949. A fourth man, Ernest Thomas, was killed during a manhunt before he could be arrested. Photo: Gary Corsair

A monument to the Groveland Four will be unveiled on the lawn of the Historic Lake County Courthouse in Tavares on Friday. 

The four African American men: Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, were wrongly accused of raping a white woman, Norma Padgett, in 1949.

They were posthumously pardoned by the Florida clemency board last year, but their families want to see them exonerated. 

Vivian Shepherd is the niece of Samuel Shepherd, who was fatally shot by Lake County sheriff Willis McCall as he was being transported back to Lake County for a retrial. Shepherd says she's looking forward to seeing them exonerated. 

“We plan on getting them exonerated. It’s been too long, but we’re willing to hold on and do what our mission has set out to do, so we’re looking forward to have a great day on Friday,” she said.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson said the memorial is a significant step for Lake County, but there is still work to be done to confront the history of racial injustice in Florida. 

“This is one example of this very dark part of our history, but if we don’t face it, if we don’t discuss it, we will not make the progress that we need to make with regard to reconciliation.”

The granite memorial includes a written account of the men’s ordeal, and was prepared with the help of their families.

The unveiling takes place at 10:30am.