Orlando Sentinel Apologizes for Coverage of 1949 Rape

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In an editorial, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for its coverage 70 years ago of four black men accused of raping a white woman. The official version of the story was that in the pre-dawn hours of July 16, 1949, a white couple’s car broke down on a lonely road. Four black men drove up and offered to help but then beat the man, kidnapped his wife, and raped her. Two of the alleged assailants among the “Groveland Four” were killed, one by a sheriff. The Sentinel says, “The story had many more ugly twists and turns marked by lies, cover-ups and injustice.”

In its editorial, the newspaper said, “We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.” The paper published on the front page a cartoon that showed four empty electric chairs for the assailants. A U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the convictions of two of the defendants cited the Sentinel’s electric chairs cartoon as one of the factors that should have led to a change of venue in the men’s original trial. The newspaper says the “Groveland Four coverage then would not happen today. Reporters and editors at the Sentinel are expected to question official versions of events, not to blindly accept them.”

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