The Atlantic

An Apology in Lake County

Sixty-eight years later, Florida lawmakers said they were “sorry” to the family members of the Groveland Boys, the four black men who were falsely accused of raping a woman in 1949.
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Visual Materials from the NAACP Records

This piece was reported through The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.

When Vivian Shepherd, an administrative secretary at East Ridge High School, left her Lake County, Florida home on the morning of April 18, she knew she’d be cutting it close. Tallahassee was a good three and a half hours away, but the long drive north would be worth it. Florida’s House of Representatives was scheduled to officially apologize for the “gross injustices” in the case of the Groveland Boys, and one of those “boys” was Samuel Shepherd—the uncle she’d never met—gunned down by Sheriff Willis McCall on the side of a dark Lake County road in 1951, 10 years before Vivian was born.

She made good time, and after finding a parking space near the Florida Capitol Complex in Tallahassee, she rushed toward the House Office Building. There was a line at the security entrance, and after passing through a metal detector, Shepherd, a diabetic, was feeling hypoglycemic and recognized that she needed to eat something. She picked up some yogurt in the cafeteria, quickly ate it, and then rushed back up to the fourth floor, where guards told her that the legislative session had already commenced. The doors could not be opened.

The rest of her family, Shepherd pleaded, was inside, sitting with the Irvins and Greenlees, the other families from the Groveland case who had also come to witness Florida’s historic apology. She’d been texting them just minutes before, she said. The guard was sorry. He told her she could fill out a form that would be taken inside the chamber to one of the co-sponsors of the bill, and perhaps the representative would send a staff member out for her. Vivian

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