The Martinsville Seven
"Howdy Do, Boys!"
Earlier that same afternoon, in downtown Martinsville, Frank Hairston, 19, a local youth who worked for Woolworth's, met up with three other friends: Booker Millner, 19, a cemetery worker; Joe Henry Hampton, 19, who worked in a lumber mill; and Howard Hairston, 18, Frank's half-brother. The men knew each other well; Hairston had been a common name in town since Civil War days. It was said that a local plantation owner from the 19th century by the name of Watt Hairstone was the common ancestor of all the Hairstons in Martinsville.
Millner, Hampton and the Hairston brothers went to the movies and drank wine in the theater until about 4 p.m. After they exited the show, the group walked along Main Street. It was a comfortable day, the weather was clear, and the temperature was in the 50s. Together, they decided to go down to the Danville & Western railroad tracks to continue drinking and idle away the rest of the afternoon.
Before they left the downtown area, the group bought several more bottles of wine. One of the men also had a quantity of apricot brandy. "We left the movies and went to the whiskey store and got two bottles of wine and went up the track," Frank Hairston later testified. For the next hour, they drank uninterrupted. When they finished, they sent Millner to the same liquor store to buy more wine.
During that time, the group split up and went home for a while, where they grabbed a bite to eat. "Booker T stopped at his house to eat supper," said Frank Hairston later, "and get his overcoat. Howard, Joe and myself went on down to my house. I ate a sandwich and by that time, Booker T come on down there." Then the four men went to buy some more wine.
"Frank went up there," Millner said later in court, "didn't have all the money. He got some wine from Mr. Gardner on credit and so we come on down and decided to take it home. After we ate supper, we'd have some more to drink." When the four men left the house, they returned to the same spot near the D & W railroad tracks and continued to drink.
A few minutes later, Mrs. Floyd and Charlie Martin wandered by. They were trying to find Ruth Pettie's home. "By that time this lady and little colored boy came on down the tracks and asked us, 'Howdy do, boys?' just like that," Millner later testified, "We said, 'How do?'"