Who are Groveland Four? Black Florida men proved innocent 72 YEARS after rape claims

The four men who were falsely accused of rape, have been exonerated years after their deaths


                            Who are Groveland Four? Black Florida men proved innocent 72 YEARS after rape claims
Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas (not seen here) were falsely accused of rape (The Library of Congress)

A Florida judge released the 'Groveland Four' on Monday, November 22, years after their death. The men were falsely accused of rape and assaulting her husband by a 17-year-old girl in Lake County in 1949. The accused were posthumously exonerated as the case was reviewed again and the four men were found not guilty. 

Groveland Four, also popularly known as Groveland Boys, were four Black men namely Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin whose ages ranged between 16 to 26. The men were falsely accused by 17-year-old Norma Padgett of raping her at gunpoint and assaulting her husband in July 1949. She said that the boys raped her while she was returning home from a dance with her husband. After accusing them, Norma started a manhunt for the four boys in the small town of Groveland located 30 miles west of Orlando. The hunt also gave rise to racist violence against Black residents of Groveland. 

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During the hunt, Ernest Thomas fled. However, he was found by a sheriff's posse of a thousand White men and was shot more than 400 times while he was sleeping under a tree in Madison County in the southern part of the country. Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin were arrested and beaten until they confessed. Irvin was the only one among the three who refused to confess. Two years later, Irvin and Shepherd were shot by the sheriff of Lake County. However, Irvin survived. He died in 1969.

Charles Greenlee was paroled from prison but was arrested again from Nashville while he was living with his wife and children. He died in April 2012.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After the four men died, their families were presented with an apology for the injustice served in the case and Senator Geraldine Thompson requested the legislative session to clear the names of Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin from criminal history. In 2019, after Republican Ron DeSantis became the governor of Florida, he agreed to pardon the four Black men. During the same time, the case was reviewed again by State Attorney Bill Gladson, who formally proved that the four men were not guilty.

Gladson said, "Seventy years is a long time and that is the amount of time four young men have been wrongly written into Florida history for crimes they did not commit and punishments they did not deserve."

On Monday, the family members of all four men attended the final hearing of the case and were relieved and overjoyed to hear that their case is settled after 72 long years. The men's families hope that the ruling of the case will lead to a re-examination of all cases against Black men and women.

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