Case Closed – Seminole Middle School Student “Re-Rights” History

What began as a typical school project turned into so much more for a Seminole Middle School student. Ben Polsky was a fourth grader at the time when he was inspired to make a positive difference after reading the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Devil in the Grove,” by Gilbert King.

The ambitious elementary student decided to write his own book for a school assignment about the historic case of the Groveland Four: Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepard, Charles Greenlee, and Ernest Thomas which dates to 1949 when the four men were falsely accused of raping a woman.

With the help of his mother Nancy Polsky, “Re-Righting History: The Groveland Boys” was written and it shared their passionate story about the four innocent black youths found guilty and sentenced for a terrible crime they did not commit to create awareness of the forgotten tale so long ago. The mother-son duo’s book then inspired Ben’s peers and their parents to get involved and also make a difference.

Although in 2017 state legislators issued an apology to the men and their families, their names were not cleared. A couple years ago during Black History Month, the ambitious student and his classmates wrote more than 2,000 postcards to the Governor and members of the cabinet requesting expedited clemency review.

This year all the Seminole Panthers celebrated the victorious pardon made 70 years after the alleged crime by Gov. Ron DeSantis who called the case a “miscarriage of justice” on his third day in office. Over 1200 students wrote personal messages of gratitude which Ben hand-delivered to Tallahassee.

This year as the case was finally put to rest and the school year came to a close, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried visited the Plantation students and thanked them for their activism surrounding criminal justice and presented them with a proclamation declaring their “shining example of citizen involvement in government for the people.” 

“What they were able to do when they put their voices into something, they were able to make an impact,” expressed Fried.

But it was seventh-grader Ben, who Fried thanked explicitly when she presented the proclamation to the Seminole Middle School Panthers.

“I spoke with the Groveland families who are just so happy. I hope my classmates feel proud and will always remember that they can, and did make a difference,” exclaimed Ben Polsky.