He Fought To Clear The Name Of His Great-Grandfather's Executed Client

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Zain Murdock
July 4, 2022

On Oct. 3, 1930, 34-year-old Vida Robare was found stabbed to death at the school where she worked in Pennsylvania. And 16-year-old Black student Alexander McClay Williams became the youngest person to be executed in Philadelphia history – for a murder he didn’t commit.

An all-white jury took only four hours to convict Williams, sending him to the electric chair. William Ridley, his county’s first Black attorney, died years later – with Williams’ loss a blow to his career and his community. 

But 91 years later, Ridley’s great-grandson, Samuel Lemon, changed everything.

Lemon spent 30 years digging into his great-grandfather’s lost case. After gathering evidence, he teamed up with attorneys to get it reopened. And on June 13, 2022, before an audience of Williams’ relatives, and in the same courtroom that condemned him to death, Williams was finally exonerated.

We may never know exactly how many Black people this country has executed since its establishment. But in modern history, Black people are STILL disproportionately executed – to the point where it’s been considered “a direct descendant of lynching.” 

The 1930s-era criminal legal system Ridley challenged is unfortunately still the same system Lemon had to challenge in 2022. But, like Lemon, it’s never too late to honor the history of our ancestors and fight for our future – which, one day, may be the abolition of the system after all.

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