The case of the Scottsboro Boys arose in Alabama during the 1930s, when nine black teenagers, none older than nineteen, were accused of raping two white women on a train. After a trial which is now regarded as one of the travesties of the American justice system, the defendants were sentenced to death, despite the fact that one of the women later denied being raped. The convictions were overturned on appeal, and all of the defendants were all eventually acquitted, paroled, or pardoned, some after serving years in prison.
On March 25, 1931, a skirmish between black and white men broke out on a Southern Railroad freight train after a white man stepped on a black man, Haywood Patterson. All but one white man, Orville Gilley, were forced off .When the train stopped in Paint Rock, Alabama, the nine blacks were arrested on charges of assault. Two women dressed in boys clothing, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, were found hiding on the freight train as well. They were all taken to Scottsboro, Alabama, the Jackson County seat. The two women agreed to testify against the boys on a rape charge.
After a lynch mob gathered, the Alabama Governor, Benjamin Meeks Mille , was forced to call the National Guard to protect the jail. On March 30th, the Scottsboro Boys were indicted by a grand jury and in April all were convicted and sentenced to death, except one thirteen year old boy who was sentenced to life in prison. In April, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the International Labor Defense both took up the case, but the NAACP dropped the case in January, 1932. Despite the fact that a letter surfaced in which Ruby Bates denied that she was raped, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the convictions of seven of the Boys in March, 1932. Samuel Leibowitz , a noted Jewish attorney from New York who was widely known for winning the vast majority of his criminal cases, defended the boys.
The U.S. Supreme Court
On November 7, 1932, in Powell v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the defendants were denied the right to counsel, which violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. On April 1, 1935, in Norris v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of blacks from the grand jury which issued the indictment violated the Boys' Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The end of the case
In July, 1937, Clarence Norris was convicted of rape and sentenced to death, Andy Wright was convicted of rape and sentenced to 99 years, and Charlie Weems was convicted and sentenced to 75 years in prison. Ozzie Powell pleaded guilty to assaulting the sheriff and was sentenced to 20 years. In addition, four of the boys, Roy Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery and Willie Roberson, were released after all charges against them were dropped. Later, Alabama Governor Bibb Graves reduced Clarence Norris' death sentence to life in prison. Norris was later pardoned by the governor. All of the Scottsboro Boys were eventually paroled, freed or pardoned, except for Haywood Patterson, who was tried and convicted of rape and given the death penalty four times. He escaped north to Detroit. When he was later arrested by the FBI in the fifties the governor of Michigan did not allow him to be extradited back to Alabama. He died a free man in the 1960s.