The “Scottsboro Boys” case involved nine African-American teenage boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women in rural Alabama back in 1931. Eight of the boys were charged and sentenced to death, setting off a firestorm of protests and ongoing legal battles that lasted for years. The odds were stacked against the boys, who had to face an all-White jury, a lynching attempt, angry mobs, and other injustices. With the help of the American Communist Party, the case was appealed. On this day in 1937, the state of Alabama drooped the charges against four of the nine boys, but the horror was not over. One of the first boys to be tried, Clarence “Willie” Norris wasn’t pardoned by Gov. George Wallace until 1976 – but not before the case shattered the lives of the children completely.
The Scottsboro Boys literally had no hope, even with the falsified claims. Racism in the South was the reality they faced, and many Whites in the state were possessed with a bloodthirsty focus to punish the boys either way. After a third trial in the lower courts, charges were dropped for four of the defendants on this day in 1937 with sentences for the rest ranging between 75 years to capital punishment. Just two of the boys served time in prison, with two of the group escaping and later returning to jail after allegedly committing crimes. Norris, the oldest of the boys and the only one sentenced to death, was paroled in 1944 and moved to New York.
The move was a violation of his parole, and thus, he was sent back to prison. Paroled a second time in 1946, he made his return to New York and didn’t fare well in the job market until he reached out to his former lawyer Samuel Leibowitz who represented him and the rest of the Scottsboro teens.
He finally was able to get a job with his attorney’s help and eventually reached out to the NAACP to see if he would be able to obtain a pardon. With the NAACP’s help — by way of an aggressive campaign — the infamously racist George Wallace granted Norris a pardon in 1976.
In 1979, Norris helped to pen a book detailing his experiences as a result of the case. “The Last Of The Scottsboro Boys: An Autobiography” was released in 1979. Clarence Norris died in January of 1989 in New York; he was 76 years of age.
The Scottsboro Boys is another case of wild injustice, which we would see again with the Exonerated Five and the high rate of Black men incarcerated.
Sadly, some things never change.