New bill offers Groveland Four descendants scholarships, business loans

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson introduced HB-1133 Monday in hopes to further heal Groveland community

ORLANDO, Fla. – A representative in the Florida House is looking to further hold the state accountable through reparations when it comes to the Groveland Four.

“The state of Florida needs to make amends,” State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said. “Instead of just saying we’re sorry.”

Thompson introduced HB-1133 Monday.

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It’s set to provide business loans for black entrepreneurs and scholarships to honor Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepard, Walter Irvin, and Charles Greenlee; the group known widely as the Groveland Four.

All four men were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949. Bill Gladson, of Florida’s fifth judicial circuit, filed a motion to dismiss the guilty verdicts of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, as well as the indictments against Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas — both of whom were killed before their cases were retried and tried for the first time, respectively.

The group was exonerated this past year after previously being posthumously pardoned.

“People don’t understand when you say the word reparation, it simply means to repair damage that’s been done and it doesn’t mean giving people a pot of money,” said Rep. Thompson.

Instead of a pot of money, reparations, according to Thompson, can come in the form of scholarships.

The bill is set to allow an annual amount of $6,100 for up to 50 students per year, with descendants of the Groveland Four being first on the list.

Low-interest loans are also in the bill prioritizing, “any applications for black business enterprises in areas directly impacted by the Groveland Four injustice.”

“The Department of Economic Opportunity will be setting up the criteria for the loan program, but we have asked that it be patterned after the Black Business Investment Fund that operates now,” Thompson said.

Rep. Thompson says she has faith the bill will pass and says this has been done before.

“Given the Rosewood massacre, there were scholarships for descendants of Rosewood, and last year for the for the descendants for the massacre in Ocoee, scholarships were set up,” said Thompson.

The state legislature convenes next Tuesday. Thompson says the bill still needs to be assigned to a committee before it can be voted on in the House and Senate.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.