It’s impossible to find adequate words to describe Martina Davis Correia. Indomitable. Courageous. Warrior. Hero. Words don’t do justice to force of nature that was (that is) Martina.
I first saw Martina on Democracy Now! in July 2007, just after her brother Troy Davis had survived his first execution date, coming within 23 hours of death by lethal injection by the state of Georgia, despite a strong case of innocence. She spoke about her twin struggle for her brother’s life, and for her own life. Martina had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer on March 29, 2001. At that time, she was given six months to live.
On March 28, 2011, Martina woke up with the knowledge that she had, on that very day, survived 10 years, rather than the predicted six months. Her joy was short-lived. Later that day, she received a call from Troy’s lawyers. The US Supreme Court had denied Troy’s final appeal, paving the way for his execution.
Martina’s fight for her own life and for Troy’s life were always intertwined. Martina and Troy had always been, as their mother Virginia said, two peas in a pod. “Twin struggles,” Martina told me once. “Twin souls.”
When the state of Georgia set Troy’s execution date, for September 21, Martina all but busted out of the hospital in order to be there, with and for Troy, in his final days. She was physically weak, she was wheelchair-bound, but her spirit was larger than life. At a press conference across the street from the prison, just hours before the scheduled time of execution, Martina steadied herself by putting her hand on her son De’Jaun’s shoulder. “I am here to tell you that I’m going to stand for my brother today,” she said, rising from her wheelchair. “I am Troy Davis. You are Troy Davis. We are Troy Davis.”
There were three excruciating hours that night in the prison yard, waiting for the Supreme Court to make a decision on whether or not the execution would be stayed. At approximately 10:30pm, the answer came down: there would be no stay. The execution of Troy Davis would proceed, effective immediately. There was no way to know, in the minutes that followed, the exact timing of what was happening to Troy. We could only imagine–or try not to imagine–what stage in the process of the execution was occurring.
Just after 11pm, I was standing with Laura Moye, Amnesty International’s death penalty abolition campaign director. Martina was sitting in her wheelchair a few feet away. “Laura, come here, I need to tell you something,” she said in a voice so weak I had to strain to hear her. Laura and I exchanged a quick glance. Whatever Martina needed to tell her at that moment, it must be profound. Martina took the arm of a young woman standing next to her as Laura approached. “I want you to meet this woman. She drove all the way from San Francisco by herself to be here tonight. I want you to get her hooked up with the activists in California, make sure she’s a part of the movement.”
As Laura and the young woman exchanged contact information, photojournalist Scott Langley snapped a picture. The photo was taken at 11:08pm.
11:08pm, we later learned, was the exact moment that Troy succumbed to lethal injection.
What was Martina Davis-Correia doing at the exact moment Troy was killed? She was enlisting another recruit to bring down the system that killed her brother. She was bringing one more soldier to the fight for justice.
That was the essence of Martina. That was the spirit of Martina. There are hundreds of us, if not thousands, who have been touched by Martina, changed by Martina. And Martina’s essence and spirit will be in all parts of our struggle for a more just world.
We will never forget all that you taught us, Martina, and all that you meant to us. And we will never stop fighting for all that you fought for until your very last breath, and beyond.
JEN MARLOWE is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, author, playwright, human rights advocate, and founder of donkeysaddle projects. Her new book, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, co-written with and about Palestinian peace activist Sami Al Jundi, has just been published by Nation Books. Her previous book was Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org