On July 16, 1949, the lives of four young black men would be changed forever. Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin were the four young men accused of raping Norma Padgetts, a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County, Florida.
The white women along with her husband Willie Padgett claimed they were assaulted by the group when the couple’s car broke down on the side of the road. They claim the young men offered to assist them and at that time assaulted the husband and kidnapped the wife. A police manhood was initiated for the young men and Shepherd, Greenlee and Irvin were immediately caught and sent to jail and tortured while Thomas remained free for another week.
However, the Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall eventually found Thomas and killed him. After the news spread around Lake County the following day a mob of over 100 angry white supremacists flooded the jail demanding the boys to be released so they could lynch them. The only thing that saved them at the time was the fact that sheriff McCall lied and said they were sent to prison already. The mob then took that anger out on the black community in Groveland killing people and setting fires to homes.
Meanwhile, Greenlee, Shepherd, and Irvin were tried and convicted by an all-white jury of rape even though there weren’t any medical evidence to prove it. Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty while Greenlee received life in person.
In 1951, the supreme court threw out the three convictions and forcing a retrial. While the three boys were being transported back to lake County, Fl Sheriff Willis McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin while they were in custody. Shepherd was killed and Irvin was seriously wounded.
In 1952, the retrial took place, but an all-white jury convicted them again with Irvin being sentenced to death initially but later the sentence was reduced to life in prison by Florida Governor Leroy Collins. Irvin was the first one of the Groveland Four to be released in 1968 and he would die a year later from a heart attack at 39 years old. The final member of the Groveland Four was finally paroled and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. In 2017, the State of Florida issued an apology to the families of the men and all four men were posthumously pardoned on January 11th, 2019 by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.