Groveland Four memorial unveiled in Lake County

Four black men wrongly accused of raping white woman in 1949

The Groveland Four memorial was unveiled Friday in Lake County.

TAVARES, Fla. – The Groveland Four memorial was unveiled Friday in Lake County.

Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Lake County in 1949.

The Lake County men were accused under dubious circumstances. One was hunted down by a posse of about 1,000 men and shot more than 400 times. Three others were convicted.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 1951, then Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming the handcuffed men were trying to escape. One of them died.

Last January, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pardoned the men, and the Lake County Board of County Commissioners began planning the idea for a memorial.

The granite memorial, posted in front of the Lake County Historical Museum, features a bronze plaque with a written account of the men’s ordeal.

"This monument here today will further serve as recognition of the miscarriage of justice that served in this case," Governor Ron DeSantis said.

Carol Greenlee is the daughter of Charles Greenlee.

"This has been a hard journey, but a good journey, a worthwhile journey," she said. "Even though there are clouds in the sky, within the Greenlee family today, unveiling this family, we have sunshine in our lives. We haven't reached the end of the road, but we've come a long way."

Family members and several community leaders have called for the men to be exonerated, which would clear their names and acknowledge their innocence.

Gerald Threat is Walter Irvin's nephew.

“The only thing that can rectify this injustice is a full exoneration from the state,” he said.

Groveland Four Memorial

This has been a contentious issue, as friends and family of the accuser still stand behind her story.

“They ought to destroy it,” the accuser’s son told News 6 after the monument was unveiled. “I am not going to look at it. Why would i want to do that? It pains me to go tell my mother such as this.”

Ideas for the Groveland Four monument were first presented in April 2019 and commissioners opened the bidding process in the summer. By September, the board made a selection with the help of family members of the men. They were able to review the design and the verbiage on the memorial.

About the Authors:

Ezzy Castro is a multimedia journalist on News 6's morning team who has a passion for telling the stories of the people in the Central Florida community. Ezzy worked at WFOR CBS4 in South Florida and KBMT in Beaumont, Texas, where she covered Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Being from Miami, Ezzy loves Cuban coffee and croquetas!

It has been an absolute pleasure for Clay LePard living and working in Orlando since he joined News 6 in July 2017. Previously, Clay worked at WNEP TV in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he brought viewers along to witness everything from unprecedented access to the Tobyhanna Army Depot to an interview with convicted double-murderer Hugo Selenski.