After Their Execution, The Martinsville Seven Finally Received A Pardon

Highway signs for Martinsville
Zain Murdock
September 15, 2021

On February 2, 1951, the executions of seven Black men began, ranging from Howard Lee Hairston, 18, to Francis DeSales Grayson, 37. They were known as the Martinsville Seven, and protesters 70 years ago cried “pleas for mercy from around the world” to set them free. 

Although they’re already dead, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently met with their descendents. But what more could be done?

The governor granted all of them a pardon – 70 years later. This move was intended to address that they hadn’t been given due process! They were all stuck with all-white juries, and the US Supreme Court refused to grant them clemency despite national campaigning from the NAACP. 

And Virginia’s ruthlessness affected more than just the Martinsville Seven.

Between 1908 and 1951, Virginia executed 45 people for rape – and they were all Black. Many met the same fate at an electric chair after no sufficient legal defense. “These men were executed because they were Black, and that’s not right,” argued Northam.

Governor Northam says his choice to pardon is about “righting wrongs.” And, although the pardon gave some much-needed relief to the Martinsville Seven’s descendants, that’s not exactly what he did.

The criminal legal system still continues to persecute, torture, and dehumanize us today. Pardons can’t erase that legacy, or future – the whole system needs to go.

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