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Groveland Four: Florida Pardons 4 Black Men Accused Of 1949 Rape

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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

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the independently elected Cabinet granted a pardon to four African-American men accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago.

The posthumous pardons were granted Friday for the men known as the Groveland Four. The Lake County men – Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin – were accused of the 1949 rape under dubious circumstances. One was hunted down by a posse of about 1,000 men and shot more than 400 times.

Three others were convicted. After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 1951, a sheriff shot two of them, claiming the handcuffed men were trying to escape. One died. The two surviving men were eventually paroled.

The Groveland Four were pardoned, but they were not exonerated. Dr. Beverly Robinson, the cousin of one of the men accused, asked the board for an exoneration.

“Pardon is not the right word,” Robinson said. “The right word is exonerate. Because it never happened.”

Norma Padgett Upshaw, who accused the four men of rape in 1949, maintains that she was raped. She asked the board to not to pardon the men.

“And I don’t want them pardoned, no I do not,” Upshaw said. “And you wouldn’t neither. I know she called me a liar but I’m not no liar. If I had to go to court today, I could tell you the same story I told then.

In 2017, the House and Senate voted unanimously to formally apologize to the men’s families and asked then-Gov. Rick Scott to pardon them. He took no action. Geraldine Thompson, then a state senator, shepherded through the law apologizing to the families.

“None of us are responsible for what happened in 1949,” Thompson said. “We were not there. We’re not responsible for that. But we are responsible for what happens on our watch. And it’s now our watch.”

“And I don’t want them pardoned, no I do not. And you wouldn’t neither. I know she called me a liar but I’m not no liar. If I had to go to court today, I could tell you the same story I told then.

DeSantis replaced Scott as governor on Tuesday.

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Abe Aboraya

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