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Groveland Four Families Celebrate Monument, Seek Exoneration


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Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Samuel Shepherd. Photo: Gary Corsair

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A monument dedicated to four black men wrongly accused of raping a white woman will be unveiled Friday at the historic Lake County courthouse in Tavares. The ceremony marks a milestone in a fight to bring justice to the so-called Groveland four. 

The granite memorial honors Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, who were accused of raping Norma Padgett. The Florida Legislature issued an apology to the families in 2017 for what they call “gross injustices.” Two years later Gov. Ron Desantis posthumously pardoned the men. But Rep. Geraldine Thompson said there’s still more work to be done.

“These men were not guilty, and so exoneration is the next step and a very necessary step to clear their names and to correctly reflect in history that these men were not guilty,” she said.

Thompson has been fighting to clear the men’s names since 2014, after their family members asked her to file legislation for exoneration. She said this request came after Sen. Rick Scott, as governor, took no action to approve the families’ request. 

Vivian Shepherd, Samuel Shepherd’s niece, looks forward to attending the ceremony. She said she anticipates the ultimate celebration of exoneration and she won’t stop fighting until they get it.

“It’s been too long but we’re willing to hold on and do what our mission is set out to do,” Vivian Shepherd said.

 


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