Where Are they Now? The Scottsboro Boys Part 1

About the case of the Scottsboro Boys a group of wrongly convicted African-Americans which led to an examination of the Alabama Court System.



At the Peak: When the Memphis-bound freight train pulled into Paint Rock, Ala., it was the last stop for nine black youths who were aboard. The blacks, aged 13 to 20, had been "riding the rails" in search of work and had been accosted by some white youths. In the resulting fracas, the blacks had tossed their antagonists off the slow-moving freight. When the whites complained to local authorities, the sheriff gave orders to "round up every Negro on the train and bring them to Scottsboro," a few miles from Paint Rock. In addition to the nine blacks aboard, the deputy found unexpected cargo--two overall-clad white girls.

Afraid they were about to be arrested for vagrancy, Victoria Price, 19, and Ruby Bates, 17, said they'd been gang-raped by 12 black men. They identified the nine apprehended blacks as some of their attackers and said that the rest had jumped train en route. The blacks were tied together with plowline and jailed in Scottsboro to await justice.

Local rumor convicted the "Scottsboro Boys" by nightfall. Newspapers referred to them as "black brutes"; townsmen said the blacks had "chewed off" one of Ruby Bates's breasts. When a change-of-venue plea was filed on behalf of the boys, however, it was denied; trial was set for Apr. 6, a scant 12 days after the incident. National guardsmen stood watch over the prisoners before and during the trial, protecting them from lynchers.

The whirlwind trial was a hodgepodge of conflicting evidence, most of it offered by twice-married Victoria Price. She testified that she and her companion had each been raped six times, and added that the prisoners "would not even let me up between times to spit" snuff. Medical examinations showed that both females had had sexual intercourse, but not recently enough to have occurred on the train ride. Furthermore, there was no evidence that the two had been taken by force. The physician's testimony fostered rumors that the "victims" were actually prostitutes--a charge still being debated in court in 1977.

The Scottsboro Boys didn't have a chance. Their defense attorney was an alcoholic, who was drunk throughout the trial. The prosecutor, on the other hand, told the jury, "Guilty or not, let's get rid of these niggers. "Three days after the trial opened, death sentences were returned on eight of the defendants. The ninth was given life imprisonment because he was underage, but 7 jurymen had voted death for him as well.

During the months following the Scottsboro incident, worldwide attention was drawn to the Alabama court system. Such notables as Albert Einstein and Theodore Dreiser protested the boys' innocence. American consulates were stoned in Europe, and an American bank was bombed in Cuba. But even when Ruby Bates later testified that the charge was a hoax, the prisoners remained incarcerated. Finally, in 1937, charges against five of the boys were dropped and in the 1940s the four other boys were freed. All together, the nine youths served more than a century in prison.

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