Seventy years ago in Groveland, Fla., a white teenager named Norma Padgett accused four black men of kidnapping and raping her in a car on a dark road.
Two of the men would eventually be shot dead by the segregationist sheriff of Lake County and his angry mob, and the other two wrongfully convicted on little evidence. The case of the Groveland Four, as they became known, inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning book and has been considered for decades one of Florida’s most grave injustices and a symbol of racism in the Jim Crow South.
In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized for what happened in the summer of 1949. And on Friday, the state’s clemency board voted to posthumously pardon all four men: Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.
The deciding factor, the board said, was not whether Padgett lied — as the relatives of the accused insisted she’d done — but whether the men ever had a chance at a fair trial. Padgett, now 86, watched from her wheelchair as newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared that they had not. He called the case a “miscarriage of justice" and said that the “appropriate thing to do is grant pardons.”