Lake County passed a resolution to pardon the Groveland Four at Tuesday’s meeting and then decided to send a request for Gov. Rick Scott to pardon them at the state level, as well.
The pardon absolved four wrongly accused black men — Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin — of raping a white woman in 1948. The case received national attention for the mob riots that ensued after their arrest as well as the actions of Sheriff Willis McCall, who killed Shepherd in what he said was self-defense, but what fellow accused Walter Irvin claimed was murder.
The Board of County Commissioners pardoned the Groveland Four in what board chair Sean Parks said was an attempt to move forward as a community.
“This resolution can’t make up for the persecution of the Groveland Four,” he said. “We’ve come a long way, but this should serve as a painful reminder of choosing hate over love and respect.”
Descendants of the Groveland Four turned out and filled up several rows of seats at Tuesday’s meeting with friends, loved ones and other residents of the area.
Groveland Mayor Tim Loucks spoke as well and said the descendants of the Groveland Four were “the most forgiving people he had ever met,” and said the bill wouldn’t die in Lake County. He would be behind the move to send it to Gov. Scott’s office, he said.
“What they’re doing is excellent,” said descendant Thomas Greenlee, Charles Greenlee’s son. “I wish they’d get it done on the state level. Why [Rick Scott] has not, I don’t know. It’s an election year, and maybe he wants to wait until it’s over. We want to put closure to all this.”
Governor’s Office Deputy Press Secretary Lauren Schenone issued a statement by email Wednesday afternoon:
“Our office will follow the clemency process and review any case that is brought in front of the board,” she wrote. “The Governor does not have sole authority over the clemency process.”