The Scottsboro Boys
Museum & Cultural Center
The official organization representing the historical significance of the Scottsboro Boy’s Trial
The Scottsboro Boy’s Case was instrumental in sparking the Civil Rights Movement, across the country. Learn how this historical case landed a spot on the National Civil Rights Trail.
The Scottsboro Boy’s case is recognized internationally as one of the most infamous in legal history. The U.S. Supreme Court twice heard arguments in the case, leading to two landmark civil-rights precedents regarding: The right to counsel & Nondiscrimination in juror rolls.
In the 1930s the Boy’s struggle also prompted a host of songs, dramas, artwork and poetry around the world. The Scottsboro Boy’s case is widely believed to have been an inspiration for Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Alabama Legislature unanimously exonerates the nine men and passes The Scottsboro Boys Act allowing posthumous pardons, which Governor Robert Bentley signs into law, awarding full Pardon and Parole grants pardons to Charlie “Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
Information from the Scottsboro Boys Trials can be found on display at the Museum & Cultural Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. The center opened in 2010 in the historic Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church, adjacent to the same railroad tracks that carried the defendants from Chattanooga to Paint Rock; March 1931.
The Scottsboro Boys, a musical that played on Broadway, tells the true story of the imprisonment of nine innocent young black males in 1931, when two white women accused them of rape on a train coming from Chattanooga. The award winning play was produced by a supportive donor, and honorary museum member: Catherine Schreiber.
The Scottsboro Boy’s Museum and Cultural Center commemorates the lives and legacy of nine young African American males who, in the 1930’s, became international symbols of race-based injustice in the American South. Our mission celebrates the positive actions of those of all colors, creeds and origins who have taken a stand against the tyranny of racial oppression. We are committed to advancing reconciliation and healing, while promoting civil rights and an appreciation of cultural diversity worldwide.
The Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation established the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in 2010. The Museum’s opening was the culmination of a 17-year effort led by Scottsboro native Shelia Washington, chairperson of the Museum and executive committee member of the Foundation, to bring honor and dignity to the lives and cases of nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women while traveling through Jackson County on a train in 1931.
With the Great Depression gripping the nation after the stock-market crash of 1929, people hopped freight trains to travel from one city to the next in search of work. A fight between blacks and whites broke out on a train in Jackson County on March 25, 1931. Trying to avoid arrest, two women on the train falsely accused nine black youths of raping them. It was an inflammatory allegation in the Jim-Crow South, where many whites were attempting to preserve supremacy just 66 years after the end of the Civil War.
The accused were shackled and taken to Scottsboro, the Jackson County seat, and an angry mob gathered for their trials just two weeks after the arrests. On April 9, a judge sentenced the eight convicted defendants to death by electrocution. He declared a mistrial in the case of the youngest defendant, 13-year-old Roy Wright, after seven jurors insisted on the death penalty even though the prosecution had not sought it.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overrode the lower court’s verdict in 1932 on grounds of inadequate counsel, Circuit Judge James E. Horton was appointed to preside over a new set of trials in Decatur, Alabama, 50 miles west of Scottsboro. But after Horton suspended the jury’s death sentence for Haywood Patterson, the first youth tried in Decatur, and called for a new trial, the Alabama Supreme Court took him off the case. As a messenger from the Alabama attorney general’s office had warned, Horton lost his re-election bid in 1934. Decades later Horton maintained he had no regrets, invoking what he said was a hundred-year tradition in his family summed up by a Latin phrase that translates to “Let justice be done though the heavens may fall.”
Despite defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz’s presentation of strong evidence alleged victims Victoria Price and Ruby Bates fabricated the rape story to avoid being charged with vagrancy and prostitution and Bates’ own testimony that she and Price made up the story, white male juries in Alabama refused to accept the retraction and state officials continued the legal persecution of the Scottsboro Boys another four years. Simultaneously, a series of defense appeals kept the case alive as rallies and parades in support of the youths took place in cities around the globe and citizen groups — including one comprised of white Alabamians in Birmingham — formed to promote the boys’ cause. With media reports publicizing the legal proceedings, including a second U.S. Supreme Court hearing, the eyes of the nation and the world were on Alabama.
March 25 – After a fight among white & black youths riding the rails westbound from Chattanooga toward Memphis, a sheriff’s posse pulls nine young African American men, 12 – 19, from a freight train in Paint Rock, Alabama.
March 24 – The Alabama Supreme Court upholds seven of the eight death sentences, sparing Eugene Williams; 13.
November 7 – In Patterson V Alabama, the United States Supreme Court rules that defendants had been denied the right to counsel, a violation of the 14th Amendment & orders a retrial.
In January, the International Labor Defense League hires noted New York attorney Samuel Leibowitz as chief legal counsel for the defendants & in March the second round of trials begin in Decatur. The jury once again declares a guilty verdict. Leibowitz calls for a mistrial and Judge James Horton sets aside the jury’s guilty verdict, & the case returns to the Supreme Court.
June 12 – a year after his heroic ruling, Judge Horton loses his bid for reelection.
April 1 – In Norris V Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court again rules in favor of the defendants, ordering new trials because the Alabama judicial system excluded blacks from jury rolls.
July 24 – The State of Alabama drops the rape chares against Ozzie Powell, Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright.
Clarence Norris, Andrew Wright, & Charlie Weems are released from prison. Only Haywood Patterson remains imprisoned.
In July – Haywood Patterson escapes from prison and finds refuge in Michigan. The FBI tracks him down, but Michigan Governor Gerhard Mennen Williams refuses to extradite.
June – Andrew Wright, the last Scottsboro defendant sill in prison, is paroled and released.
October – Governor George Wallace pardons Scottsboro defendant Clarence Norris.
January – Clarence Norris dies. He was the last surviving defendant in the Scottsboro trials.
More than eighty years after the trials began, the U.S. criminal justice system – through incarceration, parole and probation – oversees one-third of African American men in their twenties.
The Alabama Legislature unanimously exonerates the nine men and passes The Scottsboro Boys Act allowing posthumous pardons, which Governor Robert Bentley signs into law. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles grants full and unconditional pardons to Charlie “Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
March will mark the 90th Anniversary of the Scottsboro Boy’s Trial and our museum plans to host a commemoration at the Jackson County Courthouse & welcome the Scottsboro Boy’s Musical to Decatur, Alabama in 2021.
The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center is a subsidiary of the Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation. As a registered 501(c)3, your tax-deductible financial contributions help promote & foster a positive vision through historical, civic and educational endeavors.
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Scottboro Boy's Museum
Scottsboro Boys Museum
428 W Willow St, Scottsboro, AL
OFFICE: (256) 912-0471
CELL: (256) 609-4202