Thank you to Ampeduplearning for sponsoring this video! Mr. Beat presents…Supreme Court Briefs Jackson County, Alabama
March 25, 1931 African American teenage boys get into a fight with six white teenage boys on a freight train they all illegally hitched a ride on. After the fight, the six white males were kicked off the train because they had apparently started it. Well them boys didn’t like that so much, so they went to the sheriff in the nearby town of Paint Rock to say they were assaulted. The sheriff got together a mob of people and ordered the train stopped and every African American on board arrested. Yep, they really did arrest every African American on that train. Eventually, they were able to narrow down the suspects to nine boys. The nine were Clarence Norris, age 19. Charlie Weems, age 19. Andy Wright, age 19. Haywood Patterson, age 18. Olin Montgomery, age 17. Ozie Powell, age 16. William Roberson, age 16. Eugene Williams, age 13, and Roy Wright, age 12. William could barely walk due to a severe case of syphilis. Andy and Roy were brothers, who had left their homes for the first time ever. Olin couldn’t see and was hoping to get a job to pay for some glasses. And Haywood, Haywood had ridden freight trains for so long that he claimed he could light a cigarette on top of a quickly moving one. Of these 9 boys, only four knew each other before getting arrested together. While the boys were in custody, two white women who were also on that train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, approached authorities and claimed they had been raped by the boys after the white boys had been kicked off. A doctor examined Price and Bates for signs of rape, but did not find any. Historians have speculated that Price and Bates may have have told police they were raped to distract the police from looking at the fact that both had been involved with prostitution in Tennessee. Regardless, after word got out about those charges, a rather large mob formed outside the jail. Due to the racism of the time and place, the mob automatically thought these black teenage boys were guilty. They demanded the boys be released to be lynched. The authorities did not release the boys. In fact, Sheriff Matt Wann actually stood in front of the jail blocking entrance, saying he would kill the first person to come through the door. The Alabama Army National Guard soon came to protect the jail. The nine boys were later called the Scottsboro Boys since their case was first heard in nearby Scottsboro, Alabama. From the very beginning, the justice system made it so these boys were guilty until proven innocent. Before the trials, they were not allowed to seek legal counsel or even contact their families. The trials were completed in just four days. Each of those four days, a huge crowd of all spectators booed and hollered. The two lawyers who defended the boys were not given enough time to prepare for the case, and didn’t even give closing arguments. The only evidence considered was the testimony of Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. The all-white jury didn’t need much time to think about it. Guilty! And because rape was punishable by death in Alabama at the time, the eight oldest boys were sentenced to the electric chair, scheduled to die on July 10, 1931. Roy Wright, the youngest of the boys, was spared not due to his innocence, but because the jury couldn’t figure out whether or not to sentence him to death or life in prison, so the judge granted him a mistrial. After word got out about the Scottsboro Boys, a lot of folks protested, including a large group in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York known for its African American heritage. Both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, and the Communist Party USA offered to help the boys out. Ultimately, the boys went with the Communists to save their lives. Lawyer George W. Chamlee, led a team to open up a new investigation to prove the boys’ innocence and hold off on the executions. He also got an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing the boys were not given a fair trial. On March 24, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling on seven of the eight remaining Scottsboro Boys. It granted a new trial for 13-year old Eugene Williams because he was so young and the electric chair might be a bit much for such a youngin’. The Scottsboro Boys appealed again, this time to the supreme Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments on October 10, 1932. Because the federal government was now getting involved, the Court had to figure out if the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made it so they could step in to determine whether or not the boys got a fair trial. Oh it did. On November 7, 1932, in a case which became known as Powell v. Alabama, the Court announced its decision. It sided with the Scottsboro Boys. It was 7-2. The Court reversed the convictions of the boys, saying the boys were denied due process and not given a fair trial. Not only were they not given enough time to reasonably defend themselves as protected by the Fifth Amendment, they also likely were not given the full opportunity for a right to a lawyer as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Now, they did not declare the Scottsboro Boys innocent. They just said the trials were not legit and ordered a retrial. So the case went back down to the lower court, this time in a new location- Decatur, Alabama, which happened to be near the homes of the victims and deep in the heart of Ku Klux Klan country. The boys got to keep their new lawyers to defend them, and of course got a new judge, James Edwin Horton, and jury, although that jury was made up of all whites. During the retrials, racist mobs gathered outside the courthouse yet again, so again the National Guard came to protect the suspects. This time, the defense had a surprise witness. Ruby Bates took the stand to testify that she had NOT been raped by the boys and had made the story up. Despite this, the jury unanimously found them guilty, but Judge Horton said there needed to be new trials as this one again was not fair. He ordered a new trial for Haywood Patterson, and of course would not be re-elected for doing that. The new judge was heavily biased against the defense, and while the third trial did get one African American on the jury, the jury still found Patterson guilty. The jury also found Norris guilty at his retrial, so both Patterson and Norris returned to death row. Both would appeal their cases again. Meanwhile, all the others were also still trying to appeal THEIR cases again. Fortunately for Patterson and Norris, the Supreme Court heard their appeals in February 1935. On April 1, four years after the Scottsboro Boys were arrested, the Court announced their decisions, and it was unanimous this time. They sided with both Patterson and Norris, saying the boys did not have a fair trial, citing the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because they were African Americans, and the jury pool excluded African Americans, they once again didn’t have a fair shot to prove their innocence. The Court said there needed to be retrials yet again, this time with African Americans on the juries. But this freaking story doesn’t have a happy ending, and it’s not even over yet. It appears the damage was already done to the Scottsboro Boys. Haywood Patterson got a fourth trial in January 1936. This time, while blacks were in the pool of possible jury members, none got picked for the actual trial. Yet again, the jury found Patterson guilty of rape. However, this time, instead of the death penalty, they sentenced him to 75 years in prison. This was the first time in Alabama history that a black man had not been sentenced to death in the rape of a white woman. Patterson escaped from prison in 1948. In 1950, the same year he published a book describing what he gone through, the FBI caught up with him and arrested him in Michigan, but the governor refused to send him back to Alabama. Patterson was later arrested for stabbing a man in a bar fight, and died of cancer in prison in 1952, one year into his second sentence. What about the others? Well, on the way back to jail after Patterson’s 75-years-in-prison sentence, Ozie Powell, who had suffered from mental illness due to solitary confinement in prison, attacked a guard who had abused him. The guard shot Ozie in the head. Ozie survived, but had trouble speaking, hearing, and remembering stuff the rest of his life. Ozie wasn’t released from prison until June 1946. In 1937, Alabama dropped all charges against four of the boys- William Roberson, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright. There is evidence that all four suffered from mental illness for the rest of their lives. Wright served in the army and worked as a merchant marine. In 1959, after coming home from a long trip at sea, he convinced himself that his wife had been cheating on him. He shot and killed her, and then killed himself. Roy’s brother, Andy Wright, was the last of the Scottsboro Boys to be freed from prison, in June 1950. He moved to New York. The next year, he was again accused of rape, but this time he was quickly found not guilty. Oh, and by an all-white jury. Charlie Weems, who suffered from permanent eye injuries after being gassed for reading Communist books in prison, was released in 1943, and lived a relatively quiet life afterward. Clarence Norris, the oldest of the Scottsboro Boys and only one sentenced to death in the final trial, got out on parole in 1946 and went into hiding. In 1976, Alabama Governor George Wallace, of all people, pardoned him. Norris later also wrote a book about his experiences. As far as we know, he was the last of the Scottsboro Boys to die on January 23, 1989, at the age of 76. Clyde: The Alabama legislature has decided to pardon the group infamously known as the Scottsboro Boys 80 years later On November 21, 2013, Alabama pardoned the rest of the Scottsboro Boys and apologized for the events, even though the boys were all long gone. Today, the story of the Scottsboro Boys is fairly well known. Harper Lee’s classic book To Kill a Mockingbird is at least partially inspired by their story, and there’s even a musical about them that came out a few years ago. But few actually know the complete and frankly shocking real story of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of young men falsely accused of something and victims of an unjust and corrupt Alabama judicial system. I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury! This video was sponsored by Ampeduplearning, which is where I got this amazing T-shirt. The Hairstory of America, the worse the hair, the better the man They are the internet’s top resource for history education, developed by two middle school history teachers. Not only can you get shirts like this, but history review games like Freck and engaging lesson plans. I even have a store on there where I sell my own stuff. Check it out! Use code “BEAT10” to save 10% off of your purchase. And thanks to Ampeduplearning for sponsoring this video. So what do YOU think about the Scottsboro Boys cases? I mean, this was really a 3 in 1, with 3 Supreme Court cases. And such a tragic story. I got really depressed researching this thing. Be sure to check out my Gideon v. Wainwright episode, a related case that further expanded due process rights. Also, I have opened up a Discord server that is open to the public. so the link to that is in the description and the pinned comment. Hopefully this goes well? We’ll see. Thanks for watching!