The Scottsboro Trials


On March 25th, 1931, on a train from Chattanooga to Memphis, a fight broke out between a group of white youths and black youths due to a white stepping on the hand of one of the black youths, Haywood Patterson. Patterson and his friends then started a stone throwing fight. The group of blacks managed to force all but one of the white youths off of the train. Some of the whites then went to a stationmaster and told them about what they described as an assault by a gang of blacks. The stationmaster wired ahead, a posse in Paint Rock, Alabama stopped the train, armed men rushed to the train and arrested every black youth they could find, and they captured the nine blacks, or Scottsboro Boys. The boys were then taken to a Scottsboro jail. Two mill workers, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates were also greeted by the armed men, one told them that they were ganged raped by a group of twelve blacks with pistols and knives. Price pointed out six out of nine boys and said that they had raped her. The guard then replied saying that if six had her, it stands to reason that the others had Bates. The two women were afraid of being prosecuted for their sexual relations with some of the white men thrown off the train.

The Trials

The trials of the boys began twelve days after their arrest, in the court of Judge A. E. Hawkins. Many to most local newspapers already made their conclusions about the trials before they even began. The first set of trials were in four groups in four days in early April of 1931. Thousands of angry whites were there, and the Alabama National Guard had to be sent to prevent a lynching. It was before an all-white jury and hostile judge. Eight were sentenced to death, but Roy Wright, the youngest, remained in prison, awaiting the verdicts. If the International Labor Defense (ILD) didn't intervene, the case may have ended there. They used the case for propaganda and to recruit more to the Communist Party. The ILD and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) would soon fight over the legal defense and hearts of African Americans for the case. The case became an international spectacle because of the ILD and they gained many supporters of all types. Powell v. Alabama overrode Alabama's descisions and granted new trials to the defendants. It also established a precedent for enforcing African American's right to equal counsel under the 14th Amendment. In state and circuit courts, the campaign to free the defendants met with repeated frustration and disappointment. There was much evidence, and some even came from Ruby Bates, one of the women that accused them of rape, herself. She ended up admitting that she lied and became a supporter of their freedom. There was also medical evidence and inconsistencies in Victoria Price's testimony. The jury still came back with a guilty verdict. Judge James Horton overrode their verdict, as he thought the girls were lying. The lawyers still continued to pursue the case and convicted Haywood Patterson and Clarence Norris to death for rape a third time, still under an all-white jury. Five others remained in prison, the other two taken to juvenile court and convicted. In January, 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the third convictions, overturned them three months later, and ordered new trials. In Patterson v. Alabama and Norris v. Alabama, it was ruled that they were denied fair trials due to their race. Patterson was convicted a fourth time, but this time, his sentence was 75 years in prison. Ozzie Powell was shot in the head after attacking a deputy sheriff in an escape attempt, Clarence Norris was convicted of rape and sentenced to death, but then given life in prison. Andy Wright and Charlie Weems were also convicted and given long prison terms. Powell had his rape charges dropped, but was sentenced to 20 years for assault of the deputy sheriff. Roy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, and Eugene Williams had all charges dropped. An attempt to free the imprisoned failed, but Charlie Weems was paroled in 1943. Norris and Wright were a few years later, but they violated the terms for their probation. Powell was paroled in 1946, Patterson escaped prison in 1948, Norris was pardoned in 1976.

Media and Ending

The last of the boys died in 1989. Many books, movies, and songs have been written about the trials, based off of them, and their lives, some were written by the boys themselves. The Scottsboro trials live on as some of the most shameful and infamous trials in American history.

Works Cited

Linder, Dou O. "The Trials of The Scottsboro Boys." The Trials of The Scottsboro Boys. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

"The Scottsboro Case (1931)." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2013.

"Scottsboro Timeline." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2013.

The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys - A Short Documentary