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Tavares in Lake County, Florida — The American South (South Atlantic)
 

In Memory of the Groveland Four

 
 
In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, February 24, 2020
1. In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker
Inscription.  In July 1949, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas — known collectively as the "Groveland Four" — were accused of crimes in Lake County. Eyewitness accounts, records, and subsequent investigations revealed that these men were subjected to racially motivated oppression and were never given the opportunity to legitimately defend themselves in a court of law. Evidence demonstrates that Mr. Greenlee could not have been present when the alleged crime was committed. Mr. Thomas was slain before he could receive due process. Mr. Irvin never confessed despite being tortured. Mr. Shepherd was killed by a law enforcement officer before he could be re-tried.

The brutality and injustice that these men endured resulted in the wrongful deaths of Mr. Thomas and Mr. Shepherd, and the unfair incarcerations of Mr. Irvin and Mr. Greenlee. Prominent civil rights lawyers worked on the case, including Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court. After the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered evidence that had been suppressed during trial and
Marker photo: The "Groveland Four"<br>Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas image. Click for full size.
2. Marker photo: The "Groveland Four"
Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas
other legal irregularities, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins commuted Walter Irvin's death sentence in 1955.

The Groveland Four families never gave up hope for justice. Nearly 70 years later, on January 11, 2019, the Governor of Florida and Cabinet, sitting as the State Clemency Board, issued full pardons to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas.

The pardon was vigorously supported by Lake County residents, Groveland Four family members, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, Lake County's Constitutional Officers, the Groveland City Council, the Florida Legislature, citizen advocates from Florida and around the nation, and two pivotal authors, Gary Corsair and Gilbert King, who conducted extensive research into the cases. Their books detailed the lack of evidence against the men, manufactured evidence, witness perjury, and systemic racism by then-Sheriff Willis V. McCall.

The Lake County community came together in 2019 to support the pardons of Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, and to make clear that Lake County and its residents condemn racism and injustice, value fairness and compassion, and believe that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law.
 
Erected 2020 by Lake County Community.
 
Topics. This historical marker
In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker<br>(<i>tall view</i>) image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, February 24, 2020
3. In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker
(tall view)
is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansCivil RightsLaw Enforcement.
 
Location. 28° 48.127′ N, 81° 43.839′ W. Marker is in Tavares, Florida, in Lake County. Marker is on West Main Street just east of South Sinclair Avenue, on the right when traveling east. Marker is located beside the sidewalk, directly in front of the Lake County Historic Courthouse. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 317 West Main Street, Tavares FL 32778, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Lake County Courthouse (within shouting distance of this marker); Atlantic Coast Line Train Depot (approx. 5.1 miles away); Old Mount Dora Post Office (approx. 5.1 miles away); Lakeside Inn (approx. 5.2 miles away); John P. Donnelly House (approx. 5.2 miles away); The Mount Dora Lawn Bowling Club (approx. 5.2 miles away); The World War (approx. 5.3 miles away); Mount Dora Community Building (approx. 5.3 miles away).
 
Also see . . .
1. The Groveland Four. The Groveland Four case was a 1940s example of injustice toward young African American men falsely accused of raping white women. The Groveland Four were four young black
In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker<br>(<i>wide view • Lake County Courthouse in background</i>) image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, February 24, 2020
4. In Memory of the Groveland Four Marker
(wide view • Lake County Courthouse in background)
men, Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, who were accused of raping Norma Padgets, a 17-year-old white woman on July 16, 1949 in Lake County, Florida. Thomas was killed by County Sheriff Willis McCall on July 26, 1949 during the search for the four while Irvin, Shepherd, and Greenlee were arrested. (Submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

2. Lake County to consider a memorial to the Groveland Four on grounds of historic courthouse. The Lake County case has been thoroughly explored in two books, “Legal Lynching: The Sad Saga of the Groveland Four,” by Gary Corsair, published in 2004, and Gilbert King’s “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. (Submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

3. Groveland Four: Who were they?. Ernest Thomas never got his day in court. On July 26, 1949, 10 days after Norma Padgett, a white 17-year-old, said she was raped by four black men, Thomas was dead. He was shot 100 or more times by a posse that pursued him into woods 180 miles away.

The youngest of the Groveland Four, 16-year-old Charles Greenlee was a friend of Ernest Thomas, who convinced him he could earn more money in Lake County than at his dish-washing job in Gainesville. He arrived in Lake on July 15 —
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and was in jail a day later after a night watchman found him with an unloaded pistol.

Though beaten by jailers, shot by the sheriff and scheduled to die in Florida’s electric chair, Walter Irvin maintained he didn’t rape Padgett. Irvin was defended at the second trial by famed civil-rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 would become the high court’s first black justice. The retrial was moved to Marion County but another all-white jury returned another guilty verdict and, once again, Irvin was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Samuel Shepherd was the son of a prosperous black farmer in Groveland in the summer of 1949 when he was accused of rape at age 22. A veteran of World War II, “Sammie” was known to wear his Army uniform around town. The day after the rape allegation, his father’s home was burned to the ground by a mob and his family and other blacks fled in fear for their lives. (Submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 

4. Lake County unveils Groveland Four memorial, hopes to shed racist reputation.
(from the Orlando Sentinel, 02/21/2020)
Descendants of the Groveland Four graciously accepted a long-overdue memorial dedicated Friday as an apology for the miscarriage of justice heaped on the four young black men wrongfully accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl in 1949. The 4-foot-tall granite memorial on the front lawn of the county’s historic
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courthouse includes a bronzed photograph of the four: Irvin, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, and an account of the ordeal they endured in Lake County’s justice system. (Submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on February 24, 2020. It was originally submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 56 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on February 24, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Apr. 8, 2020