Scottsboro Case

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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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