The Groveland Four: Racism, ‘Miscarriage of Justice’ and the Press

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Groveland Four

Fla. Sheriff Willis McCall (left) and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee. The three, accused of rape in 1949 along with a fourth man, were pardoned Friday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo from Florida State Archives

Belated mea culpas were issued last week to the Groveland Four, young black men subjected to racist vigilantism following a dubious rape allegation 70 years ago in Florida.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency pardoned the men, two years after their descendants received an official apology from the state legislature.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied,”  said Florida Gov. DeSantis.

“Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Orlando Sentinel, whose vitriolic owner was the spearhead of inciteful press coverage, weighed in with an apology of its own:

“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 pardon came after a dramatic, hour-long meeting  during which the families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and his three-member Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape, reported USA Today.

The woman, who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

Five years ago, TCR’s David J. Krajicek looked into journalism’s role in the case—both the rabid local coverage and the crucial attention from northern newspapers that shed light on the scandal.

His report, part of a series of case studies commissioned by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, examining “how ‘mob journalism’ and media ‘tunnel vision’ turn journalists into tools of the prosecution,” was published in February 2014.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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