By Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nationally syndicated radio host Tom Joyner is asking South Carolina to posthumously pardon two of his great-uncles — black landowners executed in 1915 after being convicted of murdering an elderly Confederate Army veteran.
Joyner learned the fate of farmers Thomas and Meeks Griffin during filming of the PBS documentary “African American Lives 2,” which first aired in February 2008 and was based on research by Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The program traces the lineage of 12 people, including Joyner. The host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” said he was stunned to learn of his South Carolina roots and two great-uncles he didn’t know existed.
“The records will show they did not do what they were executed for, and maybe now they can rest in peace,” Joyner said from his Dallas studio.
He said a pardon would bring long-overdue justice, adding “I started trying to put myself in my great-uncles’ position and tried to imagine what they must’ve been going through.”
The Griffins were forced to sell their 130 acres to finance their defense. After they died in the electric chair on Sept. 29, 1915, Joyner’s grandmother moved to Florida, where the family’s known history begins.
“It’s very unusual for stories like this to be passed down from generation to generation among African-Americans,” Joyner said. “As a people, we don’t like to pass along bad news about family.”
In June 2008, Joyner, Gates and legal historian Paul Finkelman wrote Gov. Mark Sanford seeking a pardon. The case is scheduled Oct. 14 before the state’s parole and pardon board.
If a pardon were granted, it would be South Carolina’s first awarded posthumously in a capital murder case, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
Court documents show the Griffin brothers were executed with two other black men for the April 1913 shooting death of John Lewis, 73. Lewis was a wealthy veteran living in Blackstock, a Chester County town 40 miles north of Columbia.
The four were indicted July 6, 1913, and the trial began two days later. With only a day to prepare, defense attorney W.H. Newbold asked for a delay, but the request was denied. The state Supreme Court later deemed that denial insignificant.
Finkelman said such speedy trials were apparently once the norm and the quick trial wasn’t necessarily racially motivated — but it was unfair.
Joyner believes his uncles were framed. Read more.