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Injustice For The Scottsboro Trials Boys

The University of Oklahoma

Nine young men were all headed to a train station March 25, 1931, in hopes for a brighter future. The young boys were wishing that once they arrived in Memphis, Tennessee they would be able to find a good place to work and call home. As they all boarded a train in a freight yard, heading west, they were all optimistic of the outcomes of their futures. These boys were all seemingly innocent and harmless. Perhaps it is easy to say these young African American boys were not expecting their worlds to come crashing down over the next few years.

Courtrooms and prison cells were not in the itinerary for that day. These boys found themselves in the middle of a momentous fight for their lives. An argument between whites and African Americans on a train ended in the arrest in all the young boys being accused of rape. All they wanted was a better future but they were now stuck in the middle of white supremacy and rape charges. The Scottsboro Boys Trials was a very important part of history because it easily became a huge stepping stone for the Civil Rights Movement. Bellamy J. began to explain his opinion that,” the Scottsboro Boys were the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement..” The Scottsboro Boys Trial influenced the Civil Rights Movement and the United States as a whole by creating a disputation and divide between one another because it gained both negative and positive attention from men and women of all ethnicities who wanted to share their opinion on the injustice of the court system, white supremacy, and racial inequality.

Back in the 1930’s, the nation was struggling with many different issues, the Great Depression being a large and crucial occurence people were suffering through. People were at a scary part of their lives when it came to finding jobs, purchasing food, and even affecting the psychological part of one’s life. “People were unemployed and had no idea what to do for work.” Americans of all ages started to try and hitch long rides on freight trains to start a new life. Many people would hop aboard these trains to end up across the country. This gave many people new opportunities to find work.

It was not until March 25, 1931 that Americans started to think differently about the rides people were catching on freight trains. Nine young African Americans were arrested on a southern railroad train coming from Chattanooga, Tennessee. A fight had broken out on the train and these nine boys were accused of being a part of it. The freight train was located in Jackson County, Alabama. Deputies in the town were called to the scene and the boys were arrested immediately. This was not only devastating for the boys, it was not true. They were only trying to better their lives and did not expect anything like this to occur to them on this freight train.

It only got worse for the boys after this though. After deputies interviewed and questioned other people on the trains, two white women accused the boys of raping them while they were all onboard. Ozie Powell, Leroy Wright, Andrew Wright, Charlie Weems, Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Eugene Williams, Willie Robertson, and Haywood Patterson were all accused of raping Ruby Bates and also Victoria Price. Who would wrongly accuse nine different men for rape? Many people were questioning this very statement for years to come. Many people believed the boys but also, many people believed in the two white women.

As soon as these boys were accused of rape, they were all transferred to the local county seat. At Scottsboro, they awaited a long and painful trial. The nine African American boys had not all been friends before that freight train ride, nor did the even know each other. The boys were causing a huge divide in America and also all around the world. The Jim Crow laws made rape a very highly incendiary charge in the South. This being said, the alleged rape charges on the boys was an immensely controversial topic for the world. Angry mobs began to encompass the jail. So many indignant people showed up to protest that the local police officers had to order in the Alabama National Guard to prevent people from creating to much destruction and also to prevent any lynching of people.

The first set of trials began in April of 1931. ShiPu Wang began to explain the courtroom by stating, “I looked around. That courtroom was one big smiling white face..” The nine African Americans knew a fair trial would not be apart of their agenda after an all-white jury was chosen for them. Their lives were in the hands of an all-male, all-white jury. Eight of the men were then sentenced to death. One of the boys was only thirteen years old, Leroy Wright, and he was convicted life in prison instead of death.

Many people did not agree with the rulings of the court system. National campaigns were being started by enraged Americans. Public speeches, rallies, demonstrations, parades, letters, and even telegrams were flooding Alabama. People knew that these young boys were wrongly trial and convicted. “I will gladly do my part and get justice I think they deserve.” People knew voicing their opinions would possibly make the judge and jury realize maybe they were being unjust and clearly not practical. African Americans and whites, communists and non-communists were all protesting the verdict the boys were given.

Attention was fastly gained by the Alabama Supreme Court. In March 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court granted one of the youngest of the the defendants a new trial but they upheld seven of the other defendants convictions. Eugene Williams was a minor at the time the trial occurred so the Alabama Supreme Court decided a new trial would suffice. To the many disappointed people in the nation this was not enough. People wanted justice for all nine of the boys.

The United States Supreme Court, in November 1932, ruled in Powell v. Alabama. The Scottsboro boys were violated of their 14th Amendment. The defendants were denied the right to counsel. This is a right every citizen in the United States is given regardless of race or gender. The Alabama verdicts were overturned by the Supreme Court. This was an important stepping stool for enforcing rights for everyone, not just the white male population. This ruling began the second round of trials. They took place in Decatur, Alabama, only about fifty miles from the first place trials had taken place, Scottsboro. Ruby Bates, who was one of the woman who accused the nine boys of rape recanted her testimony and even helped testify for the defense. Even though Ruby Bates abjured her statement accusing the Scottsboro boys of rape, the second all-white jury convicted Patterson and wanted him to also have the death penalty.

Having evidence and also a rebuttal from a accuser, white men did actively denied civil jurisdiction of the African American boys. The current judge even noticed their bias and racist opinions and asked for Patterson to have a more sympathetic judge. This cycle would continue time and time again for years. White men got to decide the fate of these African Americans for their entire life. America was outraged. The world was outraged. How could anyone deny white supremacy taking place? These men were torn away from everything they could have ever accomplished. This was a huge turning point for the American justice.

African Americans were treated poorly all throughout history, this is no hidden secret. The Scottsboro Boys Trials only scrapes the surface on how much African Americans were mistreated and shown no mercy. If the nine boys on that freight train were white males, nothing would have come about that argument except a little slap on the wrist. These boys were stripped of their freedom and right to live freely in our country solely because the were African American. Men and women should never have the opportunity to ruin someone’s life so intensely for any reason especially because of their race.

White supremacy has shown to be a huge problem people in our country struggle to deal with. This is shown throughout history and also very present in current lifestyles. Even though people were treated horribly because of their race, not all white people agreed with the trials verdicts. Some people were very off put by the way the justice courts handled the verdicts. Many telegrams, letters, and petitions were created in honor of the nine boys wrongly accused.

A Telegram from Mme. St. Clair was a woman desperately wanting to take the place of the nine boys who were accused of rape. She states that she will gladly take the place of the minors and be executed instead of them. Mme. St. Clair sent this telegram directly to Governor of Alabama, Governor Miller. It stated, “…I know your hands are tied but I am willing to take the boys place in exchange because the boys are minors and I am a woman..” Knowing that someone would take the place of boys they did not personally know speaks volumes about the type of people who were outraged about the injustice.

A petition was created by Nancy Cunard, people from London, Paris-based artists, and also some other very intelligent people. It stated that they wanted “unconditional and immediate liberation” for the nine Scottsboro boys. The petition is two pages of introductory letter and thirteen pages of actual names and peoples comments. Nancy Cunard also sent some additional petitions demanding for their release to Governor Miller. So many people were dedicated to getting the justice for the boys that they deserved.

A telegram was sent from The National Student League City College Evening Chapter in New York to protest the trials for the nine Scottsboro boys as well. They stated that the protests “outrageous procedure and decision” of the courts. They also asked for the removal of Judge Callahan and for the boys’ to be immediately released. Another telegram was sent from people not in the United States, but from Cuba. It was a telegram sent from Cuban journalists and writers directed to Governor Miller protesting the impending execution of the nine Scottsboro Boys. The Cuban writers claimed that this trial was a “miscarriage of justice.” They claimed that the boys were apart of social and racial prejudice. The telegram had 25 signers and stated that this will be a mark on Alabama’s record. The trials grabbed attention some many people out of the United States.

The Scottsboro Boys Trials were all-around injustice and a disgrace to our nation. For so many people to be fighting for nine boys freedom, it is sad to see that our court systems let our nation down all over white supremacy. Almost eighty years after the boys were wrongly accused, three men were granted parole from their wrongful sentences. Governor Robert J. Bentley said in a statement.” The Scottsboro Boys have finally received some justice.” Some of the other men in jail convicted numerous other crimes during their times in jail. Can someone really blame another man for making mistakes and acting out when he has been wrongfully accused his entire life and treated so unfairly?

It is surprising to find that the United States could not have taken the facts for how they were and given the boys a fair trial. Due to the nation treating African Americans poorly for many years, it is seen on numerous occasions that a man is judged solely from his race. The Scottsboro Boys Trials have certainly changed the United States completely as well as influenced the Civil Rights Movement. A large divide was created from people all over the world having negative or positive emotions and beliefs on the injustice in the court systems, white supremacy, as well as racial inequality.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.

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