Bill offers scholarships and business loans to pay off the legacy of Groveland 4

After helping deliver official state apologies, pardons and exonerations for injustices committed against the Groveland Four more than 70 years ago, Rep. Geraldine thompson hope to see Florida pay back a little to make up for the inheritance.

Thompson, the Orlando Democrat who led the eight-year crusade to clear the names of four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949 in one of the darkest chapters of the Jim Crow era in Florida, is proposing legislation creating scholarships and business loans on their behalf.

Bill 1133, which Thompson presented on Monday, would create up to 50 college scholarships of up to $ 6,100 per year for tuition and fees, which could be awarded to descendants of the Groveland Four and other Groveland students , the Lake County town where the injustice began. and echoed for decades among black residents in the area.

HB 1133 also creates a new exclusion in the state’s black business loan program to make certain low-interest loans specifically available to black-owned businesses in Groveland.

“It is a way of fixing to some extent what happened in the hands of the elect in 1949 and 1951,” said Thompson.

In a case that quickly became a flagrant railroad offense and inevitably turned into a racist parody of the time, Ernest thomas, Samuel Berger, Charles greenlee, and Walter Irvin were charged in 1949 with raping a woman. Thomas and Shepherd were killed before being tried. Greenlee and Irvin were convicted in 1951 and spent decades in prison.

Their ordeal had been the culmination of a legendary but failed defense of Thurgood marshall and the NAACP in the 1950s, the subject of two investigative books, an apology from the Florida Legislature in 2017 and the Florida Cabinet Pardon Center in 2019.

Last fall, a new Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation led the Lake County state attorney Bill Gladson to seek full and posthumous exonerations of the four. In November, 5th circuit judge Heidi Davis granted them.

“I have been in contact with family members from the very beginning, when I first introduced a bill in 2014,” offering the legislature’s apology three years later, said Thompson. “While an apology from the State of Florida is a good one, while a pardon is a step in the right direction, and now the exemption, they believe, like me, that there should be some kind of redress, a way to restore them. for what happened to their family members.

There is a precedent. Similar scholarship programs were created for the descendants of the racial massacres of the 1920s in the black communities of Ocoee and the ancient town of Rosewood. The Ocoee program was approved last year, supported by Democratic Senator Randolph Bracy.

Thompson is running to replace Bracy to represent Senate District 11. Bracy is on a limited term and is running for Congress. Rep. Democratic Kamia eyebrowsn of Ocoee is also in contention for this SD 11 seat.

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