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Scottsboro Case

SCOTTSBORO CASE

SCOTTSBORO CASE. On 25 March 1931 nine black teenagers, after having fought with some white youths on a freight train traveling through northern Alabama, were apprehended. Also on the train were two young white women who accused the black youths of rape. Within two weeks the accused were put on trial in Scottsboro, Alabama, and eight of the nine were convicted and sentenced to death for rape. The ninth was sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1931 to 1937, during a series of appeals and new trials, the case grew to an international cause célèbre as the International Labor Defense (ILD) and the Communist Party of the U.S.A. spearheaded efforts to free "the Scottsboro boys." In 1932 the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the defendants had been denied adequate counsel (Powell v. Alabama), and the following year Alabama judge James Edwin Horton ordered a new trial because of insufficient evidence. In 1935 the Supreme Court again ruled in favor of the defendants by overturning the convictions on the grounds that Alabama had systematically excluded blacks from jury service (Norris v. Alabama).

But white public opinion in Alabama had solidified against the Scottsboro youths and their backers, and each successful appeal was followed by retrial and reconviction. Finally, in 1937, defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz and the nonpartisan Scottsboro Defense Committee arranged a compromise whereby four of the defendants were released and five were given sentences ranging from twenty


years to life. Four of the five defendants serving prison sentences were released on parole from 1943 to 1950. The fifth escaped prison in 1948 and fled to Michigan. In 1966 Judge Horton revealed theretofore confidential information that conclusively proved the innocence of the nine defendants.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carter, Dan T. Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

Goodman, James E. Stories of Scottsboro. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

Dan T.Carter/c. p.

See alsoAlabama ; Race Relations .

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Scottsboro Case

Scottsboro Case: In 1931 nine black youths were indicted at Scottsboro, Ala., on charges of having raped two white women in a freight car passing through Alabama. In a series of trials the youths were found guilty and sentenced to death or to prison terms of 75 to 99 years. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed convictions twice on procedural grounds (that the youths' right to counsel had been infringed and that no blacks had served on the grand or trial jury). At the second trial one of the women recanted her previous testimony. The Alabama trial judge set aside the guilty verdict as contrary to the weight of the evidence and ordered a new trial. In 1937 charges against five were dropped and the state agreed to consider parole for the others. Two were paroled in 1944, one in 1951. When the fourth escaped (1948) to Michigan, the state refused to return him to Alabama. In 1976, Alabama pardoned the last known surviving "Scottsboro boy," Clarence Norris, who had broken parole and fled the state in 1946; the other three who had been convicted were posthumously pardoned in 2013. The belief that the case against the "Scottsboro boys" was unproved and that the verdicts were the result of racism caused 1930s liberals and radicals to come to the defense of the youths. The fact that Communists used the case for propaganda further complicated the affair.

See H. Patterson and E. Conrad, Scottsboro Boy (1950, repr. 1969); A. K. Chalmers, They Shall Be Free (1951); D. T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (1969); J. Goodman, Stories of Scottsboro (1994).

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