Photo of the Scottsboro Boys in prison with their attorney Samuel Leibowitz.

The Scottsboro Boys: Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Andrew and Leroy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson, and Eugene Williams.

The Scottsboro Boys Trials

 

  • It is the Great Depression; hoboes hop a Southern Railroad freight train in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  A fight breaks out between Blacks and a group of Whites.  At Paint Rock, Alabama, nine Black youth are pulled off the train, arrested for assault, and hauled away to the Scottsboro jail.  Later, two white women, disguised as men, who had also hopped the train, falsely accuse the boys of rape.

 

  • An all-white jury finds eight of the nine boys guilty and sentences them to die by electrocution on July 10, 1931.  The youngest, twelve-year-old Roy Wright's case ends in a hung jury.  Alabama Supreme Court upholds seven of the death convictions but grants thirteen-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because of his age.

 

  • Haywood Patterson's second trial begins in Decatur, Alabama, before Judge James Horton.  Lead counsel Samuel Leibowitz, retained by the International Labor Defense (ILD), takes the case pro-bono.  Because no Blacks are on the jury, the defense's first order of business is to challenge Alabama's jury system.  They visited the historic First Baptist Church and met with Black citizens who did not fear repercussion.  During pre-trial, Black men testify about their qualifications to serve as jurors.

 

  • Ruby Bates, who had been missing, appears in court as a surprise witness for the defense and recants her story.

 

  • Haywood Patterson is found guilty and sentenced to death a second time.  Judge Horton postpones other trials because of high racial tensions.  At the Limestone County Courthouse, Judge Horton sets aside Haywood Patterson’s death sentence and grants a new trial.  The Alabama Supreme Court denies the motion for new trials.  Case appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which resulted in 2 landmark Supreme Court rulings (i.e., all defendants are entitled to adequate legal counsel during a capital felony and the inclusion of Blacks on jury rolls).