1832: Lucy (Wells), jealous slave 1814: Mary Antoine, jealous lover

1915: Thomas and Meeks Griffin, ancestors of Tom Joyner

September 29th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1915, a quintet of African Americans died in South Carolina’s electric chair during a 70-minute span.

Joe Malloy was put to death for killing two white men four years before; the other four executed on this date were convicted together of murdering 73-year-old Confederate veteran John Q. Lewis. They were John Crosby, Nelse Brice, and — our principal concern today — Thomas and Meeks Griffin.

The Griffins were among the wealthiest blacks around, and we’ve already seen where that’s a dangerous profile to keep in South Carolina.

In this case, and even though public opinion was predictably inflamed at the aged veteran, the Griffins weren’t lynched: indeed, prominent white people in the community, such as the mayor and the sheriff, rose to the Griffins’ defense to the extent of signing a petition for executive clemency. They didn’t believe then that the thief whose accusation condemned the brothers was credible.

More than likely they suspected Lewis’s 22-year-old black mistress, Anna Davis, and/or her husband — and undoubtedly, they would have known exactly why this scandalous angle was not pursued in court.

Still, South Carolina’s governor reckoned that they’d had their day in court, the victims deserved closure, and whatever other equivalents of the familiar modern-day rationales one might care to name.

Almost surely, this distant injustice would be lost to time were it not for the Griffins’ famous great-nephew, the radio host Tom Joyner.

Joyner only recently discovered (via Henry Louis Gates Jr.‘s research for a PBS documentary*) his kinship with these executed men; his grandmother had moved away to Florida to bury the family tragedy.

But the broadcaster exhumed it with gusto, and, two years ago, was able to secure a posthumous pardon from South Carolina based on the weakness of the original case. It’s thought to be the first official posthumous pardon the state has granted to any executed persons.

But we do want to extend the Palmetto State the credit due to all its sons whose signatures graced the disregarded clemency petition way back when. More than that: The State editorialized, confusedly but forcefully, against the manifest racial discrepancies in capital sentencing on the occasion of this quintuple-execution. (Oct. 1, 1915) These questions, ever present, are more sincerely grappled with in this column than we can manage today.

* You can watch the big reveal when a flabbergasted Joyner first hears about his ancestors: it’s quite a moment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Notably Survived By,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,South Carolina,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2 thoughts on “1915: Thomas and Meeks Griffin, ancestors of Tom Joyner”

  1. Nakayla Griffin says:

    It’s a little weight off of my heart knowing that we were pardoned yes, however there are still so many feelings and emotions I feel because im a very spiritual person. I have them around me I’m comfortable with them rushing throughout my body I don’t know how to embrace them all. My forefathers, were awesome people obviously so there souls are not at ease knowing they could have been the way for the rest of their family to live, and comfortably. We are all great people I wish you all could meet the rest of the Griffin’s and soon you all will, even if I have to be the only reason my immediate Family is successful I will ensure that! I’m doing my Research and I am in hopes of finding my family! Getting to know them and rebuilding what Thomas and Meeks started.

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