The Martinsville Seven Initiative, Inc.
The Martinsville Seven Initiative Inc. is a Martinsville, Virginia based organization dedicated to challenging injustices for people of color in Henry County, to calling attention to systemic racism, and to seeking closure for the Martinsville 7 including an exhibit to memorialize the memory of the Martinsville 7.
WHO ARE THE MARTINSVILLE 7?
The Martinsville 7 are:
Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton, Booker T. Millner and John Clabon Taylor.
The Martinsville 7 were African-American young men accused of the rape of a white woman, Ruby Stroud Floyd, on January 8, 1949 in Martinsville, Virginia. The young men were arrested, interrogated & charged with rape & attempted rape.
According to an article, “Mass Execution Ends Martinsville Case” in the Afro-American on Feb 10, 1951, “Independent investigation by responsible citizens showed that ‘confessions’ had been extorted from the men after violent maltreatment by local officials.”
According to news reports, parents of the young men were advised by their original court-appointed attorneys not to say anything about how the confessions were obtained.
Altogether, the courts held six “assembly line” trials (one trial had two defendants who wanted to be tried together), one right after the other and no trial lasted more than one day each.
While Black people could serve on juries in Martinsville at that time, prosecutors struck potential Black jurors. Ultimately all 72 jurors for the six trials were white.
The all-white juries convicted the Martinsville 7 & sentenced them all to death, devoting no more than two hours to their deliberations.
The NAACP sought appeals for the Martinsville 7 on the grounds that the young men were beaten and coerced into confessing to the crimes so that they would not face mob violence.
The Virginia NAACP held a “Martinsville 7 Week” on September 4-10, 1949 to raise money for their defense.
NAACP lawyers argued that the young men were not given fair and impartial trials and that they were tried in a hostile environment. The young men were given unequal sentences, their lawyers said, as death sentences were only meted out to Black men accused of rape.
The NAACP and the Civil Rights Congress led an advocacy & media campaign to save the Martinsville 7. The campaign’s aim was to show the racial disparities in how these young men were sentenced. People from around the world and from behind the Iron Curtain including Russian composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, sent letters calling for clemency for the Martinsville 7.
The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the appeals on behalf of the Martinsville 7 and the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case and rejected appeals to the court without review.
Lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to use statistics to challenge the racial disparities in the death sentences of these young men, the first case where this strategy was pursued according to legal experts. In Virginia, only Blacks faced the death penalty for rape or attempted rape as no white man has ever faced execution in Virginia for rape or attempted rape.
On February 2 and 5, 1951, the Martinsville 7 were executed in Richmond, Virginia. This was the largest mass execution for rape in U.S. history.
For a comprehensive study of the Martinsville 7 case, read The Martinsville Seven: Race, Rape & Capital Punishment by Eric W. Rise