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She never gave up

Martina Correia, sister of Troy Davis, presente!

Published Dec 8, 2011 8:07 PM

Tens of thousands of people came to know Troy Anthony Davis through the persuasive and compelling presentations his sister, Martina Davis Correia, made at hundreds of meetings, rallies and media interviews in this country and around the world.

Correia died Dec. 1 in a Savannah hospital with family and friends by her side. She was 44 years old. The official cause of death was liver failure, a complication from years of cancer treatment.

She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and at that time was given six months to live. Her brother, Troy, was convicted of killing an off-duty policeman, Mark McPhail, in 1989 and sentenced to death.

Troy’s family was steadfast in their conviction that he was not guilty of the crime. They were incensed by the injustice meted out by the local police, prosecutors and judges.

In particular, his mother, Virginia Davis, who had been involved in the sit-in movement against Jim Crow segregation, and his sister, Martina, a former military nurse who served in the first Gulf War, worked unceasingly to bring state and national attention to the blatant miscarriage of justice during his trial. Virginia Davis died in April 2011, shortly after the Supreme Court denied Troy a final appeal.

Martina, who had practiced a healthy lifestyle, did not discount that her illness could have been caused by the many toxic chemicals she was exposed to during her stint in the war zone. She fought the cancer as ferociously as she campaigned to save Troy’s life.

She became a spokesperson for cancer research and prevention, appearing on local television and at workshops alerting women to the symptoms and treatments available.

Undoubtedly, many who saw her at Troy Davis rallies never imagined the slim, stylishly-dressed woman with the brilliant smile and magnetic personality was undergoing multiple sessions of chemotherapy and radiation.

Martina’s struggle against the death penalty went far beyond her concern for the fate of her brother. She was a leader of Georgians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty, on the national board of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and very active with Amnesty International.

While detailing the specifics of Troy’s case, she always made it clear that the legal system was riddled with racism, class bias and inequality. The slogan, “I Am Troy Davis,” which Martina first hand-lettered on a T-shirt, became instantly recognized as an indictment of an arbitrary process under which innocence didn’t matter if you were poor or a person of color.

Although noticeably ill and in a wheelchair, Correia attended the Georgia Pardons and Parole Board hearing in Atlanta on Sept. 19, was outside the prison walls with supporters on the night of Sept. 21 when her brother was executed and sat in the front row of a packed church for Troy’s funeral on Oct. 1.

Kathryn Hammoudah of GFADP, who worked closely with Martina starting in 2008 in organizing mass opposition to Troy’s death sentence, told WW: “I always think of words like ‘courage,’ ‘tenacity,’ ‘passionate commitment,’ ‘optimistic’ to describe Martina. She spoke from her soul and epitomized human dignity.”

Correia will be buried on Saturday, Dec. 10, Human Rights Day. She is survived by her son, De’Jaun; sisters, Kim and Ebony; brother, Lester; and niece, Kiersten; and the thousands around the world who have taken up the cause of abolishing the death penalty because of her efforts.

For those who wish to donate to alleviate funeral and medical expenses, checks should be made out to “Martina Davis Correia Fund” and mailed to the Fund in care of Capital City Bank and Trust, 339 MLK Jr. Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419. Condolence cards can be sent to The Davises, 169 Parkview Rd., Savannah, GA 31419.