NPR logo Tom Joyner's Wrongly Executed Relatives Cleared - 94 Years Too Late


Tom Joyner's Wrongly Executed Relatives Cleared - 94 Years Too Late

Tom Joyner and his millions of listeners will have plenty to celebrate and talk about when the radio host returns to the mic Thursday one day after South Carolina officials exonerated two of his grand uncles who were electrocuted in 1915 for a murder they didn't commit.

Joyner was in South Carolina Wednesday where he witnessed state officials sign the document officially pardoning his two grand uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, for the 1913 murder of a white farmer. Like so many black men of their time, the Griffin brothers were framed for a crime they didn't commit. An all-white jury of the era found it easy to convict the men despite the lack of any evidence of their guilt.

It was Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, famously arrested earlier this year, who discovered the Griffins' dramatic if not unique story while researching Joyner's family for the PBS genealogy documentary "African American Lives 2."

An excerpt from a story on the website of the CBS-TV affiliate in Spartanburg, S.C.

The men were accused by John "Monk" Stevenson, who was an early suspect. He later told several people that the Griffin brothers and the two other men he accused with them were innocent and that he had named them to save himself.

Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who discovered the story about Joyner's great-uncles while researching Joyner's genealogy for the PBS documentary "African American Lives 2", said after the pardon hearing, "He framed them because he said they could afford their own defense. And of course they were only given one day to prepare before they were put on trial. They were railroaded. But the good people of South Carolina today have done the right thing."

The Griffin brothers owned about 130 acres of land, Joyner says. "These were hard-working, outstanding community citizens with outstanding record and reputation. And they were unjustly convicted and executed."

Even after their trial, white members of the community came to their defense. Magistrates, business leaders, former sheriffs and the mayor of their town all signed a petition to the governor asking him to commute their sentence. Even the judge who heard their case signed it, adding, "I heard this case and I don't think I could have given a verdict of guilty."

But then-governor Paul Manning allowed the sentence to stand and the Griffin brothers were executed in the state's electric chair on September 29, 1915.

Joyner says it's an injustice that could have happened to almost anyone, and could happen again today. "Racism is alive. And we can't move forward until we close the past. We have to bring closure first and I think that it's important as a family, as a race, as a country to bring closure so we can move forward to repairing the damage that racism has brought on all of us," he said.

That the men were large landowners may have helped seal their fate. Some black landowners in the early 20th Century never had the benefit of a legal process, even one as minimal as that given the Griffins.

They were just lynched to get them out of the way so the property could be taken by whites.

In any event, justice delayed is justice denied and the Griffin brothers were certainly denied their share of justice.

But at least their innocence has now been officially recognized and proclaimed across the land. shouted out by one of radio's best known voices.