EMMITT, ISSAC & THE MARTINSVILLE SEVEN
Written By: Barry P. Foley
Copyright © 1 Nov 2022
This is a story of 3 occasions our justice system failed so badly, its almost inconceivable that they really did happen.
First Emmitt Till. Now unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the Emmitt Till story. I’ll just hit the low points.
Emmitt was from Chicago, and not aware of the racist Jim Crow states while visiting Mississippi when he had the audacity to speak to a white woman. At the trial for the killers, the white woman testified that Emmett had grabbed her hand, clasped her waist, and used vulgar language. In September 1955, an all-white jury found the killers not guilty. Being protected against double jeopardy, the two men publicly admitted in a 1956 interview with Look magazine that they had tortured and murdered the boy, selling the story for $4,000
In 2017, the woman recanted her story. Fast forward to this year. President Biden signed into a law making lynching a federal hate crime.
In February 1946, was the senseless beating of Army Soldier hours after getting his honorable discharge. While still in uniform, Isaac Woodard Jr. was taking a Greyhound bus home to North Carolina. When the bus reached a rest stop, Woodard asked the bus driver if there was time for him to use a restroom. The driver grudgingly agreed to the request after an argument. When the bus stopped in Batesburg SC, the driver contacted the local police, who forcibly removed Woodard from the bus and drug him to an alleyway and beat him repeatedly with nightsticks. They then took Woodard to the town jail and arrested him for disorderly conduct.
During the course of the night in jail, Police Chief Shull beat and blinded Woodard by repeatedly jabbing him in his eyes with a billy club. Not knowing where he was and still experiencing amnesia, Woodard was discovered in the hospital in Aiken SC and was rushed to an Army hospital in Spartanburg. Woodard was permanently blinded.
On November 5, after 30 minutes of deliberation the (all white) jury found Police Chief Shull not guilty on all charges, despite his admission that he had blinded Woodard.
The last story is about the Martinsville Seven. This one hits close to home, as Martinsville is 25 miles from where I was raised. I first heard of this story back in August 2021, when the Virginia Governor Northam, pardoned the convictions of all seven men, 70 years after their deaths.
So lets go back to 1949. The Martinsville Seven were a group of seven Negro men who were convicted and executed in 1951 for raping a white woman. The rapes occurred in January 1949, after Ruby Floyd, a 32-year-old white woman, entered a black neighborhood. Based on her account, she claimed to have been raped by 13 black men. The police quickly arrested six of the men and by the next morning, all the men in custody had signed confessions. Two days later the last was arrested. All admitted to being present at the crime, although not all took part in rape.
The court appointed attorneys were only allowed to talk to their clients one hour before the trial. On the stand, each of the defendants at least partially rejected his confession. No trial lasted more than a day, and jury deliberation lasted between 30 minutes and two hours.
When we consider the fact that in the entire history of the Old Dominion state, no white man has ever received capital punishment for rape, only blacks.
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