Orlando attorney Paul C. Perkins Jr. touches on his UF roots, his father’s enduring legacy and how each one of us can help close the racial divide.
Growing up in 1960s segregated Orlando – the area where Parramore, Pine Hills and Carver Shores neighborhoods stand today – Paul Perkins Jr. (JD ’91) had a unique view of the world as compared to other young men in his community. After all, his father and namesake was a local attorney whose legal prowess was so well known that the late Thurgood Marshall once asked for his partnership on a landmark civil rights case called the Groveland Four.
Perkins later followed his father’s example and became an attorney who also practices in his hometown, Maitland. Perkins recently took some time to talk about his love for the Gators, his profession, his community and his recent UF project that can help bridge the racial divide with your help.
What is the Groveland Four Case?
In 1949, four young Black men – Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Earnest Thomas – were arrested on suspicion of raping a 17-year-old white woman and assaulting her husband in Groveland (Lake County).
Thomas fled and was shot 400 times by a sheriff’s posse as he slept under a tree. The others were beaten and later convicted by an all-white jury. Greenlee, then-16 years old, received a life sentence. The other two received the death penalty.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a retrial for Irvin and Shepherd, Paul Perkins Sr. and Thurgood Marshall led the men’s defense. However, the Lake County sheriff shot Irvin and Shepherd on the way to that trial, claiming they tried to escape. Irvin survived and told FBI investigators that he and Shepherd had been shot in cold blood. Florida NAACP leader Harry T. Moore demanded the sheriff’s suspension, but the following month a bomb under Moore’s house exploded, fatally wounding Moore and his wife.
Irvin was ultimately convicted by another all-white jury and again sentenced to death. The next Florida governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. Irvin was paroled in 1968, but died in 1969, reportedly of natural causes. Greenlee remained in prison until 1962. He died in 2012.
In 2016, Groveland and Lake County leaders apologized to the Black men’s survivors. Gov. Ron DeSantis posthumously pardoned them in 2019, but relatives continue to demand complete exoneration.
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