The so-called "Martinsville Seven" were all executed after being convicted of raping Ruby Stroud Floyd – a white woman living in a predominately Black neighborhood.
In December, advocates and descendants of the men asked Northam to issue posthumous pardons. Their petition does not argue that the men were innocent, but says their trials were unfair and the punishment was extreme and unjust.
"The Martinsville Seven were not given adequate due process ‘simply for being black,’ they were sentenced to death for a crime that a white person would not have been executed for ‘simply for being black,’ and they were killed, by the Commonwealth, ‘simply for being black,' " the advocates wrote in their letter to Northam.
When the pardons were announced, some of those in attendance wept openly.
"This is about righting wrongs. We all deserve a criminal justice system that is fair, equal, and gets it right—no matter who you are or what you look like. I’m grateful to the advocates and families of the Martinsville Seven for their dedication and perseverance. While we can’t change the past, I hope today’s action brings them some small measure of peace," Northam said in a statement.
Northam has pardoned more people than any governor in the Commonwealth’s history with 604.
The seven men, most in their late teens or early 20s, were: Francis DeSales Grayson, Frank Hairston Jr.; Howard Lee Hairston; James Luther Hairston; Joe Henry Hampton; Booker Millner; and John Clabon Taylor.
Virginia has since abolished the death penalty – becoming the first state in the south to do so.