Thomas and Meeks Griffin, were respected African American brothers in South Carolina, who were wrongfully accused of murder in 1913. Despite shaky testimony from a criminal seeking a reduced sentence, they were convicted and executed in 1915..
Thomas Griffin, born on January 1, 1889, and his brother Meeks Griffin were prominent African American farmers who had managed to carve out a life of prosperity on their 130 acres of land despite the harsh realities of their time. Their world shattered when they were accused of the 1913 murder of John Q. Lewis, a 75-year-old Confederate veteran from Blackstock, South Carolina. The Griffin brothers’ success did little to shield them from the rampant racial prejudices of their era.
They were implicated in the murder by John “Monk” Stevenson, a small-time African American thief who was found in possession of the victim’s pistol. In a deal that secured him a life imprisonment sentence, Stevenson testified against the Griffin brothers. This shaky testimony formed the foundation of the brothers’ conviction. Additionally, Nelson Brice and John Crosby, two other African Americans, were executed for the same crime.
Later on, John “Monk” Stevenson confided in several individuals, admitting that the Griffin brothers and the other men he accused were, in fact, innocent and that he had named them to save himself.
As their trial unfolded, the Griffin brothers who were believed to be the wealthiest Black people in the area, were forced to grapple with both their innocence and the economic reality of defending themselves. They made the difficult decision to sell their prized 138-acre farm in a desperate attempt to fund their legal defense. Sadly, their financial sacrifice was in vain, as racial bias overshadowed their pleas for justice.
Even though a petition with over 100 signatures, including those of Blackstock’s mayor, a sheriff, trial jurors, and the grand jury foreman, urged Governor Richard Manning to spare their lives. Despite the mounting support, their pleas went unanswered, and the brothers were sent to the electric chair.
Decades after the injustice was committed, the efforts of Tom Joyner, their great-nephew, finally brought redemption to the Griffin brothers. In 2009, posthumous pardons were secured through the state appeals court in Columbia, South Carolina.