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The Scottsboro Boys

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Imagine you are put on trial for a crime you didn't commit and the sentence is death. Imagine that you are tried over and over again, and each time you go back to death row. This became reality to nine young boys on March 25, 1931. When the Scottsboro boys were convicted, everyone involved was extremely happy. Yet when the boys persuaded the judges to have retrial after retrial, it became a mess. Despite the conflicting testimonies of the Scottsboro boys, Victoria Price, and Ruby Bates, the court was able to discern the truth and deliver justice to everyone surrounding the trial. The Scottsboro trials were important because the sixth and fourteenth Amendment was challenged and carried through and the evidence presented was undeniable.

On March 25, 1931 a deputy sheriff group in Paint Rock, Alabama stopped a freight train traveling from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Hoboeing was a common "pastime" in the Depression year of 1931. It was when men, and sometimes women, caught trains traveling to different places to try and find jobs. On the twenty-fifth of March two dozen men rode on the Chattanooga bound train, yet the deputies only arrested nine young black men, in age ranging from twelve to twenty, for potential rape and violence (or fighting). The arrested men were Roy and Andy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Robertson, Charles Weems, and Eugene Williams. In addition to the two dozen mixed men, they found two white males and two white women dressed in men's overalls. While going over a top of a box car, one of the white men stepped on the hand of Haywood Patterson. A "stone-throwing" fight broke out between the white boys and the group of black boys. The two women who witnessed the fight were Victoria Price and Ruby Bates (Players 1).

Roy and Andy Wright were brothers, who were arrested along with the other seven boys. At the time Andy was nineteen and Roy was twelve. Andy was described as the "best natured" out of the Scottsboro boys. On June 6, 1950 he was released and was the last of the boys to be freed. As far as his younger brother Roy, the state wanted life imprisonment yet most jurors insisted on death. Roy Wright's case was declared a mistrial, assumed because of his age. During his first trial, he testified that he saw the other defendants rape the two girls. While in jail he kept a Bible by his side. In late 1936 he was named the "youngest and smartest of the Boys" in Life magazine. At the end of his time on earth, after trying to redeem a "normal" life, Wright killed his wife and then killed himself ( Players 2).

Olen Montgomery was seventeen when he was arrested. Montgomery was one of four Scottsboro Boys released in July of 1937. While in jail he wrote many letters and requested he was supplied with six guitar strings. He had a passion for music and the guitar. Olen always wanted to be referred to as the "Blues King". Clarence Norris was one of the boys directly involved with the fight with the two white boys. After finding out he was accused of rape, along with the other boys, he said, "[I'm]...as good as dead." When questioned about if he saw anyone rape the two girls he said, "...They all raped her, every one of them" (Players 3).

Haywood Patterson was the "center of the controversy" surrounding the case. He was eighteen when he was arrested and was accused of raping Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. Patterson faced four trials and convictions between 1931 and 1937. He did the hardest time in the Alabama Prisons, managed two prison escapes, and has his story told in the book Scottsboro Boy (Linder 1). During an interview Haywood Patterson was asked by Mr. Leibowitz, "Did you see all those other Negroes ravish that girl?" He answered, "No sir, I haven't seen any girls". Yet at the time of the interview he answered, "I seen all of them but three." Throughout the time of all the trials the majority of the boys and the two girls contradicted what they said earlier. Although Victoria Price stuck with her story about being raped, Ruby Bates was adamant that the boys didn't do anything. An eyewitness, Ory Dobbins, allegedly saw one of the men grab Ruby and pull her back into the train (Linder 3).

Ozie Powell was sixteen year old caught up in the Scottsboro case. He was not educated at all and could only write his name. As all the boys were questioned, Powell refused to answer a question asked by the Governor and replied, "I don't want to say nothing to you". In 1946 he was released from prison (Linder 2).

Willie Robertson allegedly raped Ruby Bates. Robertson was seventeen when arrested. Although Willie was accused of raping Bates, he wasn't near the train car where Bates was raped. He was very ill with a serious syphilis and had to walk around using a cane. That's not an ideal physical state to be hopping from one car to another. As he was living in prison he said, "If I don't get free I just rather they give me the electric chair and be dead out of my misery" (Linder 1).

Charles Weems was the oldest of the group of boys at nineteen. Along with Clarence Norris, Weems was also involved in the fight between the group of black boys and the two white boys. In 1931 he was first convicted of rape then again in a second trial in 1937. Also during the same year he was affected by tuberculosis. In 1938 he tried to stab Andy Wright but instead stabbed a guard. While in prison he maintained a good prison record and was paroled in 1943. He said he thought a lot about, "...the ladies out in the world and I'm shut in here". Eugene Williams was one of the younger boys at the age of thirteen. He admitted to fighting with the white boys, but he denied seeing Price and Bates until after his arrest. In prison he was quoted saying, "...getting out is the main thing I think about" (Players 2).

One of the main components in this case is the two girls that the boys raped. Victoria Price was in her twenties and was a spinner at the Margaret cotton mill in Huntsville, Alabama. She was described as a "hard-drinker" and a hard swearing girl.

Price's co-worker, Ruby Bates was often described as a prostitute. Her mother was a prostitute and she has an abusive and alcoholic father. She was "well acquainted" with black people. She wanted all the boys to get off free of charge. She was quoted saying, "Those Negroes did not touch me...I hope you will believe me the law don't...I wish those Negroes are not burnt on account of me".

Throughout this process the sixth amendment was challenged. The sixth amendment states,

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy

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