"While these pardons do not address the guilt of the seven, they serve as recognition from the Commonwealth that these men were tried without adequate due process and received a racially biased death sentence not similarly applied to white defendants," Northam's office told CNN on Tuesday.
"We all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, equal, and gets it right -- no matter who you are or what you look like. I'm grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance."
A 32-year-old white woman named Ruby Stroud Floyd went to a predominantly Black neighborhood in Martinsville, Virginia to collect money for clothes she had sold. While there, she says she was attacked and raped. Under public pressure and threats of mob violence, Francis DeSales Grayson, Booker T. Millner, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Lee Hairston, James Luther Hairston, Joe Henry Hampton and John Claybon Taylor were coerced into confessions without the presence of a lawyer. Two years after the initial accusation was made, the seven men were electrocuted in February 1951.
The execution of "The Martinsville Seven" was not uncommon in the state of Virginia. According to CNN, 100% of the Virginia prisoners executed for rape from 1908 to 1951 were Black men. In addition, Virginia executed more people than any other state in U.S. history before abolishing the death penalty earlier this year. While the state appears to be headed in a better direction, the wounds of the past may never heal.
"I was traumatized by this incident. I'm looking for closure," Booker T. Millner's cousin, Curtis Millner, told CNN.
"They did not deserve to die. Governor Northam should render an apology to the families of these seven men, stating that they should not have been executed, It's never too late to right a wrong," Francis DeSales Grayson's son, James Grayson, added.