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In 1949, a 17-year-old white woman named Norma Padgett, falsely accused four young black men in Groveland, Florida of raping her.
Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, age 16; Samuel Shepherd, age 22, and Walter Irvin, age 22. Norma, After having a punch up with her boyfriend invented the story to protect him from her father.
The Groveland Four, wrongly accused of rape in 1949 were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the American police department which is one of the ugliest episodes of white terrorism in Florida’s history.vIrvin and Shepherd were arrested shortly after Padgett complained of the attack. The police took the men in their patrol car to a secluded spot and ordered them out of the car. Both men were beaten by police with blackjacks and fists and kicked as they lay crumpled on the ground, while being asked if they had picked up a white girl.
The two men were taken to Tavares jail, where they were interrogated in the basement while cuffed to overhead pipes and severely beaten. Greenlee 16 was interrogated and beaten in a cell that night until he admitted to the rape of Norma Padgett.
Thomas escaped capture and fled Lake County the following morning. Greenlee admitted to having been with Thomas.
Police learned where the latter lived and where he was hiding, as they found a letter in his letterbox addressed to his wife. Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall appointed a posse that tracked Thomas down days later, 200 miles (320 km) away in Madison County, Florida. He was shot and killed; officers reported that Thomas was armed and reached for his weapon.
The NAACP later said that the posse had never intended to arrest Thomas, but to kill him. According to the coroner’s inquest, Lake County Sheriff McCall was at the scene when Thomas was shot. The coroner’s jury determined that Thomas had been lawfully killed and ruled his death a justifiable homicide.
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