The Martinsville Seven

Eric W. Rise, Author
Eric W. Rise, Author University of Virginia Press $45 (216p) ISBN 978-0-8139-1567-8
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-8139-1830-3
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This is a careful exposition of a notorious Virginia case that led to the 1951 electrocution of seven young black men convicted of raping a white woman. Rise, who teaches sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, first sketches the Jan. 8, 1949, attack of Ruby Floyd in a black neighborhood in the western Virginia town of Martinsville. The black community, he notes, was shocked not by the convictions but by the death sentences. The NAACP and a discomfiting rival, the left-wing Civil Rights Congress, campaigned against the convictions. The author charges that the judicial system, which rejected several appeals, ignored the climate of ``hostility and prejudice'' against the defendants, valuing social order over due process. Most important, the appeals marked the NAACP's first attempt to use equal-protection arguments (previously cited in desegregation cases) to challenge racially disparate sentences. Such arguments persist today. Photos. (June)
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