Thursday, February 16, 2017

Scottsboro Boys Photo Exhibit -- Now Through March 3rd

The Samford University Library invites you to experience “Scottsboro Boys: Outside the Protective Circle of Humanity” -- a traveling exhibit chronicling what many consider to be the very beginning of the civil rights movement in the United States.  This exhibit comes to us courtesy of the Morgan County Archives and is on display on the second floor of the library in our Main Reading Room now through March 3rd.

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African-American men, ages thirteen to twenty-one, charged with the rape of two white women in March of 1931.  Their names were Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, Roy Wright, Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris, Andy Wright, Ozie Powell and Charlie Weems. Within two weeks, an all-white jury found the men guilty and sentenced them to death.

The case made national news.  The Communist-backed International Labor Defense (ILD) took up the case and appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The ILD also organized protests across the country against the racist verdict.  Labor organizations around the nation rallied for a new trial.  The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions, but in November 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial.

The new trials began in March 1933. Samuel Liebowitz, an eminent criminal lawyer recruited by the ILD, defended the accused.  Judge James Edwin Horton oversaw the first trial which was that of Haywood Patterson.  In spite of lack of evidence and a victim recanting her story, the jury convicted Patterson to death.

The defense moved for a retrial and, believing the defendants innocent, Judge James Edwin Horton agreed to set aside the guilty verdict for Patterson. Horton ruled the rest of defendants could not get a fair trial at that time and postponed the rest of the trials.  This decision cost him his job when he ran for re-election.

The trials moved to another court and continued. This third set of trials was completed and again all men were sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed this set of convictions April 1, 1935, because African-Americans were excluded from the juries in Alabama at that time. This practice denied the defendants due process.

In 1936-1937, five of the defendants were again tried and found guilty. Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright, who had already been in prison for six years, had their cases dismissed.  Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris, Andy Wright, Ozie Powell and Charlie Weems were sentenced to long prison terms.

Patterson escaped in 1949 and fled to Michigan where the governor refused to extradite him.  He was convicted in an assault case there in 1951 and died in 1952.

Charlie Weems was paroled in 1943.  Andy Wright was paroled in New York State in 1950. Clarence Norris was pardoned in 1976 by Governor George Wallace.  Ozie Powell was paroled in 1946.

On November 21, 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted posthumous pardons to Weems, Wright and Patterson, the only Scottsboro Boys who had neither had their convictions overturned nor received a pardon.

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