Virginia historical marker commemorates Martinsville Seven

Published: Sep. 10, 2022 at 6:45 PM EDT
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Henry CO., Va. (WDBJ) - Francis Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr., Howard Hairston, James Hairston, Joe Hampton, Booker T. Millner, and John Taylor are collectively known as the Martinsville Seven.

“They were seven African-American males that were arrested allegedly accused, tried and executed for the rape of a white woman,” said Martinsville Seven Initiative President Faye Holland.

According to court transcripts, all but one of the men confessed to the crime and a physician treated and testified to the victim’s injuries.

However, Virginia Bar Association President Victor Cardwell says the seven never had a chance at true justice in one-day trials where all Black jurors were removed.

“All white, all male jury and the deliberations again lasted two hours,” said Cardwell. “I mean most of us don’t watch a movie in two hours, yet alone decide if someone should live or die within two hours.”

All men were sentenced to death and executed for their crimes in 1951. From 1908 to 1951 all 45 prisoners executed for rape in Virginia were Black men.

More than 70 years later a Virginia historical marker was placed in front of the courthouse where they were tried, now known as the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center.

“We all really have a responsibility to, first of all, recognize that injustice has been a part of our society and to seek to try and correct and avoid future injustices as we seek to become united as a country,” said Rudy McCollum, Booker T. Millner’s nephew.

McCollum was inspired to study law by his uncle’s case. He along other descendants of the Martinsville seven were present at the unveiling. A day they’ve all been waiting for.

“In the numbers that we have come out certainly demonstrates the effect that it had on us, and it gives us a sense of relief,” added McCollum.

After the ceremony, they sat in the same courtroom where their loved ones were tried, remembering and honoring the Martinsville Seven.

We previously reported about a new exhibit in a museum that highlights their story.