The Martinsville Seven
In 1949, Martinsville was a community of approximately 18,000 citizens, of which nearly 5,000 were black. Located in Henry County near the North Carolina border, Martinsville was a chief supplier of wood furniture in America at that time. Dupont also maintained a huge nylon production plant in the town and employed several thousand people. Lumber milling and tobacco farming were also important industries in Henry County. Roanoke, about thirty miles due north, was the major city in the region. Today, Martinsville is home to one of the most popular stock-car-racing speedways on the NASCAR circuit. But in 1949, Martinsville was like a lot of other communities in rural Virginia, struggling to survive in post-war America and adapting to a changing world.
Ruby Stroud Floyd, 32, a white woman who was married to Glenn Floyd, a store manager in downtown Martinsville, had moved to the area with her husband several years before. To supplement the family income, she sold secondhand clothes and vegetables from her garden to local residents. On January 8, 1949, at about 4:00 p.m., Mrs. Floyd walked over to the east side of the city to collect $6 owed to her by a previous customer, Ruth Pettie. Mrs. Floyd was familiar with the area because she also performed missionary work for Jehovah's Witnesses. In the past, she had occasion to visit that neighborhood, though there were parts of Martinsville that she still did not know well. Predominantly a black area and called "Cherrytown" by the locals, the east side consisted of a large number of single-family homes and wooden shacks that, more often than not, had no street numbers or identifying characteristics. Mrs. Floyd stopped to ask for directions at the home of Rosa Martin. After receiving instructions on how to find her way to the Pettie house, Rosa Martin's eleven-year-old son, Charlie, agreed to show Mrs. Floyd the way.
The pair made their way over Highway 58, the perceived dividing line between the white section of Martinsville and Cherrytown, and proceeded along the Danville & Western Railroad tracks. Pettie's home was less than a half-mile from where Mrs. Floyd had asked directions.
But she would never collect the debt.