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The Martinsville Seven

Race, Rape, and Capital Punishment
Eric W. Rise

BUY Cloth · 216 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813915678 · $49.50 · Jul 1998
BUY Paper · 216 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813918303 · $21.50 · Jul 1998

This book offers the first comprehensive treatment of the case of the Martinsville Seven, a group of young black men executed in 1951 for the rape of a white woman in Martinsville, Virginia. Covering every aspect of the proceedings from the commission of the crime through two appeals, Eric W. Rise reexamines common assumptions about the administration of justice in the South. Although the defendants confessed to the crime, racial prejudice undeniably contributed to their eventual executions. Rise highlights the efforts of the attorneys who, rather than focusing on procedural errors, directly attacked the discriminatory application of the death penalty. The Martinsville Seven case was the first instance in which statistical evidence was used to prove systematic discrimination against blacks in capital cases.


The story of the Martinsville Seven is a fascinating and important one, and Rise tells it well.... He has written a book that historians as well as lawyers can comprehend and that both ought to read.

Journal of American History

Rise has produced a model study which reminds us that formalism can serve to defend unfairness. His study also underscores the relationship between law and society.

American Journal of Legal History

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