The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to apologize to survivors of the Groveland Four — African-American men who were brutalized in 1949 following a false accusation of rape.
The senators first voted, 36-0, to sign on as cosponsors, then approved the resolution on a voice vote.
“This is a great miscarriage of justice,” sponsor Gary Farmer said.
“This is Florida’s version of the Scotsboro Boys. This is our To Kill a Mockingbird. We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it. But we can acknowledge our wrongs. And we can bring peace, and healing, and closure to the families who have suffered so long.”
Those family members traveled to Tallahassee to watch the House approve the resolution on April 18 and could not return for the Senate vote, Farmer said.
“But I have met with the survivors, and they have told me of the years of dealing with this, and the years of shame and injustice that they have had to endure.”
He credited former Sen. Geraldine Thomspon, who sponsored the apology legislation in past years. “I only picked up the torch that she lit,” he said.
The resolution, CS/HCR 631 declares that injustice was done toward Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, offers an official apology on behalf of the state of Florida, and urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exonerate them.
It urges Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet to pardon Irvin and Greenlee, the two who lived long enough to be convicted and imprisoned.
“(W)e hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as ‘the Groveland Four,’ were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” the resolution reads.