The Scottsboro Boys' Trials
Race, Gender, and Lies

Imagine that you are driving down the street when suddenly a group of strangers pull you out of the car and threaten to hang you.
Imagine you are put on trial for a crime you didn't commit and the sentence is death.
Imagine that you are tried over and over again, and each time you go back to death row.
That's what happened to the nine black men in this photograph.

A True Story
(follow the links to learn more about the people involved)

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, poor people would ride in railroad freight cars, trying to get to a town that might have work. In 1931, two white women were riding the trains along with two groups of men: one white and another black.

A fight broke out between the two groups of men. The blacks won and threw the whites off the train. The whites reported this to the local sheriff, and the train was stopped in Scottsboro, Alabama. Everyone on board was arrested.

Victoria Price was in serious trouble because her friend, Ruby Bates, was a minor. It's a federal crime to take a minor across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. In order to get out of trouble, Victoria and Ruby said that the black men had raped them.

In 1931, rape was punishable by death. Considering the races of the accusers (white) and accused (black), the normal response would have been a lynching (hanging someone who is suspected of a crime). But the people of Scottsboro held a trial, instead. Of course, the result had been decided before the trial began. The Scottsboro Boys were convicted and sentenced to death - at the first trial.

But that was only the beginning. The Scottsboro Trials - we will examine two of them - dragged on for six more years and resulted in two Supreme Court rulings.

First Trial on April 6-7, 1931 First Trial of all nine defendents before Judge A. E. Hawkins (see biographies of each defendant below) Second Trial of Haywood Patterson before Judge James Horton Second Trial on March 27 - April 9, 1933
The defendents lawyers, Milo Moody, Steve Roddy, were incompetent (didn't know what they were doing) and didn't even try to win. One lawyer was a Real Estate Attorney (instead of a Criminal Defense Attorney) who told the Boys to plead guilty! This time, Samuel Leibowitz defends Haywood Patterson
Read the testimony of Victoria Price and Dr. R. R. Bridges

Price and Bridges testify again, revealing interesting differences from the first trial. Read excerpts (bits and pieces) or Price's and Bridges' entire testimony.

Ruby Bates recants (takes back) her earlier testimony and says she was NOT raped.
Lester Carter testifies for the defense, providing motive (reason) for Price and Bates to lie.
All except Leroy "Roy" Wright are convicted and condemned to death.

What were people thinking? Read these Quotations from the First Trial (1931)

Patterson is found guilty and sentenced to death.

What were people thinking? Read these Quotations from the Second Trial (1933)

May 27, 1931 This trial was carefully analyzed in a Report to the American Civil Liberties Union by Miss Hollace Ransdall.
Judge Horton sets aside Patterson's conviction and grants a new trial because he believes that Price's evidence must be corroborated (proved).

Horton does not win reelection and the case passes to a new judge.

June 22, 1933
Third trial! Haywood Patterson and Clarence Norris are convicted of rape and sentenced to death in the courtroom of Judge William Callahan, who does not believe corroboration (proof) is necessary for a conviction.

What were people thinking? Read these Quotations from the Third Trial (1933)

Third Trial on November - December, 1933
November, 1932 First Supreme Court Decision: In Powell vs Alabama, 287 U. S. 45 (1932), the high court decided that the Scottsboro Boys' right to counsel (a decent lawyer) had been denied (i.e., everybody deserves a good lawyer). David Pitts Explains. Second Supreme Court Decision: In Norris v. Alabama 254 U. S. 587 (1935), the high court ruled that African Americans had been excluded (kept away) from the jury (everybody deserves people of their own race on the jury). April 1, 1935

In 1936, Haywood Patterson was tried for the fourth time and convicted again. He was sentenced to 75 years. That same year, Clarence Norris was sentenced to death, Andrew Wright to 99 years, Charles Weems to 75 years, and Ozie Powell pled guilty for assaulting a sheriff and was sentenced to 20 years.

Charges against Leroy "Roy" Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery, and Willie Roberson were dropped in 1937.

Of all the Scottsboro Boys, Clarence Norris lived the longest. His sentence was reduced in 1938, and he was paroled in 1946. Thirty years later, the Governor of Alabama admitted that the Scottsboro Trials were unfair and Norris was pardoned. He was the only Scottsboro Boy left alive.

Your Job, Should You Choose to Accept It
(which you'll do if you want to pass)

PICK ONE!

CHOICE #1: Prove Price Lied - Highest Possible Grade: A

CHOICE #2: Why Did (S)he Do It? - Highest Possible Grade: C

Works Cited and Other Interesting Websites

American Experience: Scottsboro, an American Tragedy. Public Broadcasting System. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/scottsboro/index.html>.

Famous American Trials: "The Scottsboro Boys" Trial, 1931 - 1937. The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/scottsboro/scottsb.htm>.

The Greatest Trials of All Time: The Scottsboro Boys. 1998. The Courtroom Television Network. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://www.courttv.com/archive/greatesttrials/scottsboro/>.

Pitts, Davis. "The Scottsboro Boys and Fundamental Rights." The Scottsboro Boys. 17 Feb. 2005. U.S. Department of State: International Information Programs. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itdhr/0701/ijde/pitts.htm>.

"Profiles in Courage: To Kill A Mockingbird and the Scottsboro Boys Trial." Edsitement. The National Endowment for the Humanities. 18 Mar. 2005 <http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?id=526>.

The Scottsboro Boys. The Afro American Newspaper. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://www.afro.com/history/scott/scotts.html>.

Scottsboro Trial. Oracle Education Foundation: ThinkQuest. 17 Mar. 2005 <http://library.thinkquest.org/~12111/scottsboro/scottsbo.htm>.

"U.S. Supreme Court: Norris v. State of Ala.." FinalLaw for Legal Professionals. 07 Apr. 2005 <http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=294&invol=587>.

"U.S. Supreme Court: Powell, et. al. vs. State of Ala.." FinalLaw for Legal Professionals. 07 Apr. 2005 <http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=287&invol=45>.