Tom Joyner went before the South Carolina Parole and Pardon Board at 8:30 a.m. ET today to seek a posthumous pardon for his great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who were executed in 1915 for a crime they didn’t commit.
His request was granted. Joyner, his brother and two sons, were joined by Harvard scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and his legal team in presenting their case. The host of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” called in to the program to inform co-hosts Sybil Wilkes and J. Anthony Brown, along with his listening audience, who’d been texting their well-wishes all morning.
Joyner had been on a quest to clear his uncles’ names after learning of their story when Gates announced the results of genealogy research conducted on Joyner’s family as part of Gates’ PBS special, “African American Lives II.”
The brothers were executed with two other black men for the April 1913 shooting death of John Lewis, 73, a wealthy Confederate veteran living in a town 40 miles north of Columbia .
The Griffin brothers were indicted in July 1913 and given just two days to prepare the case. The family was forced to sell 130 acres of land to finance the defense. Their lawyer sought a delay but the request was denied, leaving just one day to get ready. Later, the state Supreme Court said the denial was insignificant to the outcome of the case.
“White people petitioned the governor to exonerate them,” Gates said, but to no avail.
The men were framed by a black man who may well have committed the crime himself, Gates said, adding that the man later said he did it because he knew the Griffin family was wealthy enough to hire a lawyer.
“I don’t care if you had Thurgood Marshall defending you; nobody could prepare for a murder trial in a day,” Joyner said in an interview last week with BlackAmericaWeb.com.
After the Griffin brothers died in the electric chair on Sept. 29, 1915, Joyner’s grandmother was hurriedly moved to Florida , where the family believed their history began – at least until the genealogical study. His grandmother, Joyner said, never told the story of what happened to her brothers, and his father never knew what happened to his uncles until Gates presented the research.
“And people don’t like to talk. There are not a lot of records that we can dig up. Had the genealogical study not been done, we wouldn’t have the story,” Joyner said. “I’m sure they are not the only African-Americans who have been framed, and their stories will never be told, and they’ll never be cleared.”