1933 May 8

Interracial March in Washington Demands Justice for Scottsboro Defendants


An interracial march of 3,000 African-Americans and whites paraded in Washington, DC demanding justice for the nine African-American defendants in the famous Scottsboro case. The defendants had been charged with raping two white women in the little town of Scottsboro, Alabama, on March 25, 1931. The march included Ruby Bates, one of the two white women, who had subsequently recanted her original testimony against the defendants. Marchers demanded that President Roosevelt and Congress intervened to free the defendants.

On October 2, 1932, the Los Angeles police, aided by American Legion members, broke a meeting by the Scottsboro Defense Committee.

The Scottsboro Case was the first truly national interracial civil rights cause celebre, and it aroused support and protest demonstrations around the country.

Two appeals of Scottsboro defendant’s convictions reached the Supreme Court and resulted in landmark decision on the right to an attorney in death penalty cases and the exclusion of Africans from criminal justice procedures. See November 7, 1932 and April 1, 1935.

Read: Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (1969)

Read the first-person account: Haywood Patterson, Scottsboro Boy (1950)

Douglas O. Linder on the Scottsboro Case: “No crime in American history — let alone a crime that never occurred — produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on the Southern Railroad freight run from Chattanooga to Memphis on March 25, 1931.”

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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