The famous Scottsboro case began on March twenty fifth nineteen thirty one on one of the Southern Railroad’s trains that was to travel from Chattanooga to Memphis. On this particular day there was approximately twenty four people “hoboing” or hitching a ride on the top of the train most of whom were young males. Among the twenty four riders there were nine african american teenagers four of whom men were from Chattanooga and were traveling to Memphis to investigate rumors about their being government jobs available in Memphis hauling logs along the river.
The other five teenagers were from various towns around Georgia. Also on the train were four young whites, two of whom were male and the other two were female, all of whom were returning from Chattanooga after failing to find jobs in the cotton mills and were returning to their hometown of Huntsville. After the train crossed the border into Alabama one of the white teens walked across the top of the train, stepping of the hand of Haywood Patterson, which was one of the african american teens hanging on the side of the train.
This incident caused an eruption of violence between the white and african american teens in the form of a stone-throwing fight. This incident ended with the african americans forcing the whites off the train, causing the white teens to retaliate by going to the stationmaster and claiming they were assaulted by a gang of african americans. This stationmaster called ahead to the local police department in Paint Rock Alabama who with the help of a mob stopped the train and used guns to round up the nine african americans who ranged from the ages of twelve to twenty.
The police then talked to two white women named Victoria Price and Ruby Bates who had both been engaged in sexual relations with some of the white men aboard the train and in order to avoid being charged for their immoral activities they both falsely accused the nine african american teens of rape. The men were then arrested, tied them together, and transported them to the Scottsboro jail. The trials of the nine boys, Andy Wright, Willie Roberson, Charles Weems, Ozie Powell, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris and Roy Wright began twelve days after their arrest in the courtroom of Judge A. E. Hawkins.
Their defense lawyers, Stephen Roddy and Milo Moody were completely incompetent with Roddy being a unprepared real estate who on the first day of trial showed up so drunk he couldn’t even walk straight. Moody wasn’t much better because even though he was a local attorney he hadn’t tried a case in decades. These defense lawyers showed their incompetence in a variety of ways, such as only cross-examining Victoria Price for a few minutes, while not even bothering to examine the doctors who looked into the women’s rape claim at all.
Also even though six of the boys denied having ever seen the women before, Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris and Roy Wright admitted to the rape and stated that the rest of the defendants were involved as well because of the beatings and threats they had received while in jail. All of this resulted in all of the boys being found guilty and all but the youngest, twelve year old Roy Wright being sentenced to death. After the verdicts were given the Communist Party stepped in using their legal wing called the International Labor Defense or ILD to become named as the boys attorneys.
Then in January 1932, the supreme court of Alabama ruled that Eugene Williams because he was only thirteen should never have been tried as an adult, but the rest of the convictions and death sentences were upheld. It wasn’t until the case was appealed to the Supreme court in the case of Powell vs Alabama that it was ruled that the boys because they were not provided with competent defense attorneys must be given a retrial.
The two attorneys that were selected by the ILD to represent the Scottsboro boys were Samuel Leibowitz and the ILD’s chief attorney Joseph Brodsky. Leibowitz was criminal defense lawyer from New York with no ties to the Communist Party and served as the lead defense attorney for the retrials. He was selected because of his impressive record having acquired “seventy-seven acquittals ad once hung jury in seventy-eight murder cases” (Linder). The second round of trials began on March 30, 1933 for Patterson in the courtroom of Judge James Horton.
Leibowitz attempted to make the indictment of Patterson void on account of the fact that African Americans had been excluded from jury rolls. This motion was denied by the judge and the trial began and on April 3 Price took to the stand where she was mercilessly cross-examined by Leibowitz. He implied that she was a lying adulterer whom had a relationship with one of the white teenagers Jack Tiller and therefore it was his semen not the defendants found inside of her. Price refuted these claims maintaining her position that the gang had raped her.
Dr. Bridges the doctor who examined the girls less than two hours after the alleged rape supported the defense’s claim of innocence. He confirmed that semin was found within the two girls, but it was dead and because sperm typically live for 12 to 14 hours it couldn’t be possible that the boys had raped her. Also he testified that neither of the girls suffered any damage or bleeding that would indicate a rape, but were instead calm and composed which is not typical for a rape victim.
The only witness to the crime Dobbins took the stand for the prosecution claiming he saw the defendants grab the girls and jump from the train. However, this claim was discredited because the man claimed that the women were wearing dresses when in was well documented that both of the women were wearing overalls. For the defense six of the accused testified, including Willie Roberson who testified at the time of the alleged rape he was suffering from a venereal disease which left him too weak to walk without a cane.
This would have made it impossible to leep from the train car, as Price had previously claimed. Another star witness for the defense was Lester Carter who claimed that he met Price and her boyfriend Jack Tiller in a hobo jungle the night before the both Price and Bates were to board the train to Chattanooga. He testified that the two girls Price and Bates both made love to their respective boyfriends and that this event was two days prior to the alleged rape, which would account for the dead sperm in both of the girls.
The final witness for the defense was Ruby Bates herself who claimed that the alleged rape never occurred and that none of the defendants had touched and or spoke to either of the girls, and that the accusations of rape were made up by Price whom told Bates”’to frame up a story’ to avoid moral charges” (Linder). However, even with this testimony when the jury was sent out to deliberate Patterson was once again found guilty and sentenced to death. On June 22, 1933 Judge James Horton, convened a court hearing to listen to the defense’s motion for a new trial.
Due to the fact that Judge Horton already believed that Price was lying he announced that he would set aside the guilty verdict and the accompanying death sentence in favor of a new trial. This third trial was set for November of 1933 and was presided over by Judge Callahan. This judge favored the prosecution and went so far as to tell the jury at the close of the trial to “assume that no white woman in Alabama would consent to sex with a black. ” He even refused to provide the jury with a form for acquittal until the prosecution forced him to do so.
His behavior was obviously aimed at influencing the jury into delivering a guilty verdict regardless of the testimonies or claims by the defense. He would use a similar strategy in Norris’s trial resulting in guilty verdicts and death sentences for both Patterson and Norris On February 15, 1935 the Supreme Court listened to the argument by both the prosecution and defense for the Patterson and Norris cases. Leibowitz claimed that the convictions must be overturned because of the exclusion of blacks from the jury roll which violated the equal protections clause of the Constitution.
He claimed that the names of African American on the jury roll were forged after the trial. Six weeks later that the jury selection had been unconstitutional and they reversed the convictions of both Norris and Patterson. Haywood Patterson’s fourth trial began in January, 1936, in Judge Callahan’s courtroom. In this trial he was found guilty of rape, but was only sentenced to seventy-five years in prison rather than death. Ozie Powell after testify in this trial, but while being transported he pulled out a pen knife and slashed the neck of the deputy sheriff.
The driver got out of the car and shot Powell in the head even though his hands were already placed above his head. He claimed that this was done out of his anxiety and fear that he would be murder during the transport, but the guards claimed it to be just escape attempt. Although Powell was severely injured during this exchange he managed to survive, but suffered permanent brain damage. The third trial for Norris occurred on Monday July 12, 1937 and resulted in a death sentence. Andy Wright was the next to face trial and received a sentence of ninety-nine years.
On July 24th Weem’s was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison and moments later the state announced that it was dropping rape charges on Powell in exchange for him him pleading guilty to assault on a deputy. The state of Alabama also dropped the four remaining defendants charges stating that Roberson and Montgomery were innocent. It was also determined that regardless of whether or not Wright or Williams were guilty they were only twelve and thirteen at the time they were arrested and had already served their jail time because they were only minors at the time of the crime.
Eventually everyone of the Scottsboro Boys would find their way out of Alabama. Weems was paroled in 1943, while Powell and Norris were paroled in 1946. The last to be parolled was Wright who was allowed to leave in June of 1950. The last one Patterson managed to escape in 1948 and flee managed to flee to Michigan where he was protected by the governor of Michigan Mennen Williams who refused to extradite Patterson to Alabama to face trial.
However, three years later he ould be convicted of manslaughter after having allegedly stabbed another African American to death and died in prison. The last known surviving Scottsboro boy was Norris who after flee to the north after his parole in 1946 was finally granted a full pardon in 1976 by the Governor of Alabama. It wouldn’t be until eighty years after they were falsely accused of the crime that in 2013 Patterson, Weems, and Wright were finally pardoned by the state of Alabama finally giving justice to the last of the Scottsboro boys.