© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bill To Pardon Groveland Four

Florida Memory

The Florida legislature is considering a bill aimed at pardoning four young black men falsely accused of rape in the 1940s. The men are known as the Groveland Four.Recently unsealed FBI files have proven physical evidence that no sexual assault occurred.

"Walter Irvin, Sam Sheperd, Charles Greenlee, and Earnest Thomas all had their lives changed forever in a bad way on July 16, 1949," Farmer said. "A 17 year old white woman and her estranged husband had broken down on the side of the road. While broken down, Mr. Irvin and Mr. Shepard, who had just returned from World War II, were veterans, stopped to assist them. The next day, the woman made the claim that she was raped by four African American men."

Farmer calls the accusation a hate crime, as there is no evidence of any assault.

"Physical examination by the physician showed no evidence of rape," Farmer said. "Witnesses who saw the woman after the alleged incident testified, or told authorities, that she showed no signs of trauma or upset, she wasn’t crying or anything. That was excluded from the defense."

During November of ’51, Irvin and Shepard, both WWII veterans, were shot by Sheriff Willis McCall while in his custody. Walter Irvin’s sister, Henrietta Irvin, gives the account in a documentary by Aaron Hosé.

"When he opened the door for Sam, and Sam turned to get out of the car…what did he say?" "He shot him right in the head," Irving said.

Sheperd was killed instantly. Irvin survived by playing dead. Sheriff McCall said he shot Irvin and Shepard in self-defense, and was exonerated on all charges. In 2004, author Gary Corsair wrote the book, “The Groveland Four: The Sad Saga of a Legal Lynching.”

"The people who don’t this is an important chapter of history, I think they need to learn a lesson from the people who have survived from the original members of the Groveland Four," Corsair said.