Exonerating the Scottsboro Nine


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From the New York Times

International Labor Defense leaflet announcing demonstration, parade, and rally in  Chicago for the Scottsboro Boys.
International Labor Defense leaflet announcing demonstration, parade, and rally in
Chicago for the Scottsboro Boys.

Decades too late, the Alabama Legislature is moving to grant posthumous pardons to the Scottsboro Boys — the nine black teenagers arrested as freight train hoboes in 1931 and convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women.

The trials were feverish displays of American racism and injustice that stirred a lynch mob outside the Scottsboro jail. The travesty drew worldwide attention and eventually resulted in landmark Supreme Court rulings on the right to adequate counsel and prohibiting the exclusion of black people from juries. The case consumed the lives of the nine men, even after the rape accusation was recanted by one of the women and the testimony of other witnesses fell apart in a series of retrials and appeals. All but one defendant were sentenced to death, and though none was executed, all served time.

"The Scottsboro Boys" meet with their attorney Samuel Leibowitz.
“The Scottsboro Boys” meet with their attorney Samuel Leibowitz.

The trials epitomized the South’s Jim Crow culture and are viewed by historians as a major spark for the modern civil rights era. Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, in a populist gambit for national attention, made a show of pardoning one of the Scottsboro nine in 1976. But the fate of the others was left to drift from sight across the years, with the last of the group dying in 1989.

This week, the State Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bipartisan bill that would change state law to allow the posthumous pardons. A second measure exonerates the nine as “victims of a series of gross injustice.” Final enactment is expected. This will not in any way deliver full justice to those men and their families. But it will confirm what happened in Scottsboro eight decades ago, when street mobs cheered the rapid-fire guilty verdicts.

And the pardons will put a spotlight on the town’s newest tourist attraction, the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center.

Read more about this famous case here.

More recently, the Central Park Five was exonerated.

Read more Breaking News here.

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