After over 80 years, a gross injustice has at last been righted in the U.S.
It was an intriguing old photo from a Glasgow newspaper that had belonged to my Dad that led me to find out about the tragic tale of the Scottsboro Boys. The old Press photo showed a black woman heading up some kind of demonstration in the 1930s, the time of the Depression. Her prominence was unusual at the time on the double count of her gender and her colour.
My research led me to the knowledge that this woman was Ada Wright. She was the mother of two boys, Roy and Andy, who had been arrested in Alabama with seven other black teenage boys in March 1931. They were Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson Charlie Weems and Eugene Williams and all nine, aged between 13 and 19, were falsely accused of rape by two young white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price.
They were all poor and had all been riding the freight train from Chattanooga to seek work. The youths were quickly tried, pronounced guilty and sentenced to death. The injustice of the case made it a cause célèbre and the American and British Left (The International Labour Defence) persuaded her to undertake a European tour to appeal for the lives of her sons.
I wrote an article on my quest and discovery which was published in History Scotland as well as on the American on line site Black Past. It was also displayed at the Scottsboro Museum on the 80th Anniversary of the arrest.
The tragic case of the Scottsboro Boys had a powerful impact on American history and on the Civil Rights Movement. Their trial led to the passage of two pivotal Supreme Court rulings, including the right to proper legal representation and the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers, specifically ensuring that black people could no longer be excluded from juries.
Now, over 80 years later, thanks to the work of the indefatigable Shelia Washington who runs the Scottsboro Museum, an Act has been passed to exonerate the remaining eight of the nine Scottsboro Boys.The ninth, Clarence Norris, was pardoned in 1976 by Governor George Wallace.
Later this year, a daring and innovative show about the Scottsboro Boys comes to London’s Young Vic theatre for its UK premiere following its successful 2010 premiere in New York. The production is keeping an important human story and pivotal part of history alive with The Scottsboro Boys. The show’s producer, Catherine Schreiber, has received the Key to the City of Scottsboro, Alabama for her work in promoting the Scottsboro Boys Museum that is run by its tireless founder, Shelia Washington.