A Message From The Publisher
By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.
I became acquainted with the Groveland Four after State Representative Bobby Dubose created ‘A Walk Through History’. Representative Dubose, after being inspired “by God one night” created an activity to share the Groveland Four story.
To give a brief synopsis of the Groveland Four which could be related to several of the horrific stories of Black men being beat and tortured, lynched and killed for allegedly raping white women and as one story reported to even wink and blink allegedly at a white woman would get a Black male brutally killed.
In several of these cases, it was later found out that the Black men were innocent and the white women had lied for fear of their husbands or boyfriends and families finding out that they participated willingly in sexual encounters with Black men.
The Groveland Four was no different.
The Groveland Four – Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas, Walter Irvin and Samuel Sheppard – were accused of raping a 17 year old white girl, Norman Tyson, in Lake County, Florida. This alleged rape took place in 1948 during the years of segregation and openly white supremacy.
It was reported that Willie Padgett (boyfriend), some white officers, and white vigilantes were on the hunt to find the men allegedly who did this.
One of the men escaped, fearing for his life he ran. Ernest Thomas was soon found, tracked down and murdered. He was found dead on the railroad tracks. The other three young men – Greenlee, Shepard and Irvin – were beaten and tortured and made to confess; however, Irvin refused to admit that he did anything in committing a crime.
What happened next was deadly.
As it is today with overt systemic racism in our courts and media, a newspapers displayed four electric chairs. Even before the trial began , they were painting the picture that these Black men were guilty before proven innocent.
Even though Greenlee at the time was 16, he was sentenced to life. Shepard and Irvin, childhood friends and army buddies, were sentenced to death. Each of these men was sentenced by an all-white jury. [sounds familiar]
It was ordered by the supreme court to have a retrial. Thurgood Marshall represented the men as part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. It should be noted that an offer was made to spare Irvin’s life if he were to plead guilty. However, even though his attorney Thurgood Marshall advised him to take the plea, Irvin rejected stating that he did not rape Norma Tyson, and he wasn’t going to say he did, even if the State of Florida agreed not execute him.
Sheriff Willis McCall, an outright known racist, in November 1951 shot both Shepard and Irvin while transporting them in his custody in handcuffs.
McCall had pulled over for some made-up reason and in his statement he said that they tried to escape. Shepherd died on the scene ; Irvin survived by playing dead.
At a second trial Irvin was convicted once again and sentenced to death. In 1955 the governor commuted his sentence to life, and in 1968 he was paroled.
Now there’s a backdrop to the story as with many of the stories like this one. Those who stated that these Black men raped them came forth to tell the truth. The alleged victim and the families of the alleged perpetrator live in close proximity to each other. Again it seems so familiar that jealously would be an umbilical cord in this story.
The Padgett family owned land that touched the Shepherd farm, and when Norma Lee Tyson married Willie Padgett, they lived on the Padgett property. Talk around town was that Willie was a drunkard and would become violent, leading to the couple divorcing after a few months. After the divorce Norma moved with her parents who also lived down the road from the Shepherds.
Henry Shepherd built a modest six-room house and maintained a small farm with help from three sons and three daughters, while his wife Ida Mae had “the best preserve cellar in the area.” Shepherd’s white neighbors tried to run him off his land. They knocked down his fences and allowed their cattle to graze on his land, destroying Shepherd’s crops just before harvest. An unsympathetic Sheriff Willis McCall arrived on the scene and told the farmer, “No nigger has a right to file any claim against a white man.”
It has been reported that the female victim or should I say alleged victim Norma Tyson who had stop using her married name of Padgett, was reported to have gone to the house of the brother of Samuel Shepard, James. James was a well-respected mechanic in the area. The story was told that one evening in 1998 that Norma had come to the house of James and his wife Alena. Alena had answered the door and Norma asked if she could speak to James. Because of his illness of diabetes, James had some of his toes amputated and he walked with a limp. When James had come in from talking with Norma, as they sat on the porch, he told his wife Alena that Norma said “it never happened.” James told his wife that she apologize. As with stories of this nature, like dirt swept under a rug, the house may appear clean; however, if you were to lift up the rugs and look into the corners, you will find that the houses are not so clean.
Information contained in this story comes from reports through The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.