American history is full of stories of black people doing precisely what America says it wants of its citizens — being creative, enterprising and industrious, being self-respecting and self-sufficient — only to have white people destroy what they’ve built, impede their progress and erase their wealth. And those are not far-off stories: Those are also the stories of the living.
In the summer of 1949, a 17-year-old white girl named Norma Padgett accused four black men of kidnapping her from a dark road in central Florida and then, in the back seat of their car, taking turns raping her.
Within days of Padgett's accusations, three black men from the city of Groveland were in jail and a fourth, Ernest Thomas, was dead, shot and killed by an angry mob — led by [Sheriff] McCall — who had chased him 200 miles into the Panhandle. In Groveland, black-owned homes were shot up and burned, sparking chaos so intense the governor eventually sent in the National Guard.
Based on little evidence, a jury quickly convicted the living three.
Charles Greenlee, just 16 at the time, was sent to prison for life.
Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, friends and Army veterans, were sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned their convictions and ordered a retrial. Before that could happen, though, McCall shot them both. Shepherd died at the scene, but Irvin — who played dead — survived, and his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
Some decades later…
Fear gripped the small town of Denison, Tex., after 18-year-old Breana Harmon Talbott burst into a church on a Wednesday night, bleeding and wearing only a shirt, bra and underwear. She said that three black men in ski masks had kidnapped her.
On Wednesday, nearly two weeks after Talbott burst into the church, police said called her story a “hoax” and the allegations deemed “officially UNFOUNDED.” In a statement, the police chief admonished Talbott for the turmoil she caused in the community and for making offensive claims about African Americans.
“The so-called victim in the case confessed to the hoax last evening (March 21) to a member of the investigative team working the case,” read a news release by the Denison Police Chief Jay Burch. “Talbott’s hoax was also insulting to our community and especially offensive to the African-American community due to her description of the so-called suspects in her hoax.”