Scottsboro boys trial pbs
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  • 1. The Scottsboro Trials 1931-1937
  • 2. The Facts of the Case: ♦ March 25: In the depths of the Depression, a fight breaks out between white and black young men who are riding as hoboes on a Southern Railroad freight train. The train is stopped by an angry posse in Paint Rock, Alabama, and nine black youths are arrested for assault. Rape charges are added, following accusations from two white women who have also come off the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. The accused are taken to Scottsboro, Alabama, the Jackson County seat. The women are examined by Drs. R. R. Bridges and Marvin Lynch. ♦ News of the incident spreads quickly; the Jackson County Sentinel, printed that evening, decries the "revolting crime." White outrage erupts over the allegations, and a lynch mob gathers at the Scottsboro jail, prompting the sheriff to call Alabama Governor Benjamin Meeks Miller. Governor Miller in turn calls in the National Guard to protect the jail and its prisoners.
  • 3. The Facts of the Case: March 30: A grand jury indicts all nine "Scottsboro Boys." April 6-9: 8 of the Scottsboro Boys are tried and sentenced to death. April 9: The case against Roy Wright, aged 13, ends in a hung jury when 11 jurors seek a death sentence, and one votes for life imprisonment.
  • 4. Haywood Patterson Patterson was eighteen at the time he was accused of rape by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. Patterson entered jail illiterate, but within eight months was writing letters home, reading, and challenging guards to name a state that he could not name the capitol of. His favorite prison reading, when he could get his hands on it, was the magazine True Detective. Patterson's smarts, his enterprising nature, and his defiance helped him tolerate the tough conditions of Alabama prison life better than most of the other Scottsboro Boys. After being falsely accused of rape in 1931, Patterson spent the next sixteen years in Alabama courtrooms and prisons. Tried four times, Patterson was convicted and sentenced to death three times, before receiving a seventy-five year sentence from his fourth jury.
  • 5. Judge James E. Horton If the tale of the Scottsboro Boys can be said to have heroes, there is no person more deserving of the label than James E. Horton, the judge who presided over Haywood Patterson's second trial in Decatur. Judge Horton's decision to set aside the verdict and death sentence of Haywood Patterson, made despite warnings that ordering a new trial for Patterson would end his career as an elected circuit judge, was a remarkable act of courage and principle. Horton made it abundantly clear that he stood on the side of fair process and fair treatment for all, regardless of color. His full anger only showed once in the trial. On the third day of the trial, after hearing reports of plans for a lynching, the judge raised his voice to a near shout and denounced would-be lynchers as "cowardly murderers." Horton, saying that he had "absolutely no patience with the mob spirit," announced that he had ordered police guards to shoot to kill if necessary in defense of the black prisoners.
  • 6. Judge James E. Horton Horton, along with virtually every other white person in Alabama, initially assumed that the Scottsboro defendants were probably guilty, but began to have doubts after listening to Price's contradiction-riddled testimony. His doubts grew to a conviction that the defendants were innocent after hearing the medical testimony of one examining physician, Dr. Bridges. On June 22, 1933, Horton shocked those assembled by announcing that he would grant the motion on the ground that the jury's verdict was not supported by substantial evidence. In a careful, point-by-point review of the medical testimony and that offered by other prosecution witnesses, Horton found Price's testimony to be "not only uncorroborated, but it also bears on its face indications of improbabilty and is contradicted by other evidence." In May of 1934, Horton, who had been unopposed in his previous election to the bench, faced two primary opponents. He was defeated. No one doubted but that his defeat was attributable entirely to his decision in the Scottsboro case. When asked about his decision in a 1966 interview, Horton quoted what he said was a phrase often-repeated in the Horton family, "fiat justicia ruat colelum" -- let justice be done though the heavens may fall.
  • 7. Victoria Price No one deserves more blame for the long ordeal suffered by the Scottsboro Boys than does a lower class white woman from Huntsville named Victoria Price. Price was the promiscuous, hard drinking, hard swearing daughter of a Huntsville widow who lived in a poor, racially mixed section of town. She made love in box cars and fields, slept in hobo jungles, and rode the rails in a pair of beaten overalls. A defense affidavit of a one-time neighbor of Price's described her as "a common street prostitute of the lowest type," a woman who would "be out at all hours of the night and curse and swear, and be a general nuisance to the negro population." Price's sensational story of being gang-raped by six pistol and knivewaving blacks was attacked by defense lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Price, however, proved to be a difficult witness to trap. She was evasive, sarcastic, and frequently used ignorance and bad memory to avoid answering difficult questions. When asked about her conviction for adultery, she claimed not to know what adultery was.
  • 8. Victoria Price To any dispassionate observer, the medical testimony provided adequate refutation of Price's charge. There was no evidence of forceful or recent sexual intercourse. Defense testimony indicated that Price had sexual intercourse with Jack Tiller in the Huntsville train yards less than two days before the alleged gang rape. In 1982, Victoria Price died without ever having apologized for her role in the injustice visited upon the Scottsboro Boys. Unlike Price, Ruby Bates later recanted her story of rape aboard a Chattanooga to Memphis freight train, and went on to actively campaign for the release of the jailed black defendants.
  • 9. The Scottsboro Trials ♦Took place in the 1930s ♦Took place in northern Alabama ♦Began with a charge of rape made by white women against African American men ♦The poor white status of the accusers was a critical issue. ♦A central figure was a heroic judge, a member of the Alabama Bar who overturned a guilty jury verdict against African American men. ♦This judge went against public sentiment in trying to protect the rights of the African American defendants. ♦The first juries failed to include any African Americans, a situation which caused the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the guilty verdict. ♦The jury ignored evidence, for example, that the women suffered no injuries. Tom Robinson's Trial ♦Occurs in the 1930s ♦Takes place in southern Alabama ♦Begins with a charge of rape made by a white woman against an African American man ♦The poor white status of Mayella is a critical issue. ♦A central figure is Atticus, lawyer, legislator and member of the Alabama Bar, who defends an African American man. ♦ Atticus arouses anger in the community in trying to defend Tom Robinson. ♦ The verdict is rendered by a jury of poor white residents of Old Sarum. ♦ The jury ignores evidence, for example, that Tom has a useless left arm.
  • 10. The Scottsboro Trials ♦Took place in the 1930s ♦Took place in northern Alabama ♦Began with a charge of rape made by white women against African American men ♦The poor white status of the accusers was a critical issue. ♦A central figure was a heroic judge, a member of the Alabama Bar who overturned a guilty jury verdict against African American men. ♦This judge went against public sentiment in trying to protect the rights of the African American defendants. ♦The first juries failed to include any African Americans, a situation which caused the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the guilty verdict. ♦The jury ignored evidence, for example, that the women suffered no injuries. Tom Robinson's Trial ♦Occurs in the 1930s ♦Takes place in southern Alabama ♦Begins with a charge of rape made by a white woman against an African American man ♦The poor white status of Mayella is a critical issue. ♦A central figure is Atticus, lawyer, legislator and member of the Alabama Bar, who defends an African American man. ♦ Atticus arouses anger in the community in trying to defend Tom Robinson. ♦ The verdict is rendered by a jury of poor white residents of Old Sarum. ♦ The jury ignores evidence, for example, that Tom has a useless left arm.