1931 March 25

Scottsboro Case Begins: Nine Young African-Americans Arrested in Alabama


Nine young African-American men were arrested in the small town of Scottsboro, Alabama, on this day and charged with raping two white women. The arrests initiated the celebrated Scottsboro Case, the most important civil rights case of the 1930s. The appeals of criminal convictions of defendants led to three landmark Supreme Court cases that expanded the rights of due process. In Powell v. Alabama, decided on November 7, 1932, the Court held that in a case involving a possible death penalty, due process required that the defendant have the assistance of counsel, as required by the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments. And in Patterson v. Alabama and Norris v. Alabama, both decided on April 1, 1935, the Court overturned the convictions on grounds that African-Americans were excluded from the jury pool.

The decisions were not only extremely important in terms of racial justice, but were landmarks in what became known as the Supreme Court’s due process revolution in the 1960s regarding many aspects of the criminal justice system. The Scottsboro case finally came to an en 80 years later, when Alabama issued posthumous pardons to three of the defendants on November 21, 2013.

A note about the use of the term “boy”: The term “Scottsboro Boys” was used at the time to describe the defendants and the case itself. “Boys” is considered racially offensive today when used in reference to African-American males. It is used here only in situations where it was used at the time.

Douglas O. Linder: “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.”

The quote and more about the case: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scottsboro/scottsb.htm

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

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

Learn more; the timeline for the Scottsboro case: http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/timelines/a/Timeline-Of-Scottsboro-Boys.htm

Visit the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center:

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