Radio Host Sees Justice for Ancestors after 94 years

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Nationally syndicated radio host Tom Joyner first found out about his family’s past while participating in a PBS documentary, “African American Lives 2,” in 2008. Joyner, who hosts the daily “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” was being interviewed by esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who discovered that two of Joyner’s great-uncles had been convicted of murder, and were wrongfully put to death by electrocution in South Carolina in 1915.

Joyner explained to Gates that he had no knowledge of why his grandmother left South Carolina. “All I know is she left home and she ended up in Florida and she didn’t stay in touch with her people, either,” Joyner says.

The revelation sparked a year-long search for justice by Joyner, who has been lobbying with the South Carolina government to issue a pardon on the two men for the nearly century-old crime. Joyner’s great-uncles, Thomas and Meeks Griffin, were convicted of killing a veteran of the Confederate army in 1913.

A board voted 7-0 on October 14th to pardon the men and clear their names. It is a landmark decision, marking the first time South Carolina’s history that a posthumous pardon in a capital murder case has been issued.

“It’s good for the community,” Joyner told reporters. “It’s good for the nation. Anytime that you can repair racism in this country is a step forward.”

He went on to say that while the decision cannot bring back his family members, it will help to provide closure to his family. “I hope now they rest in peace.”

Researchers have since found that the Griffin brothers once owned 130 acres of land and were well-known and liked throughout their South Carolina community. They were convicted of killing John Q. Lewis, a 73-year-old veteran of the Civil War.

Although records show that other suspects were pursued by the police, it is thought that the sheriff did not want to pursue them further, fearing a radical and scandalous decision in open court. Lewis was thought to have had an affair with a woman, and the woman and her husband were looked at as potential suspects, but were never arrested.

Joyner is not resting with the decision, however. He still plans to do more research into the lives of his uncles and their relationships with the community, and what happened to all of the land they once owned.

“Until we can repair some of the deeds of the past, we can’t really look forward,” he said.

 

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