Subversive Historian – 03/25/09

The Scottsboro Nine

Back in the day on March 25th, 1931, nine African- American youths were removed from a Southern Railroad train and taken to a jail in Scottsboro, Alabama. Soon to be known around the world as the “Scottsboro Nine,” six of the youths were accused by Victoria Price, a white woman, of gang raping her. The other three were reasoned to have done the same to another white woman, Ruby Bates. The trial of the Scottsboro Nine began twelve days later resulting in eight of the nine being convicted and sentenced to death by – what else – an all white jury. A new trial for the defendants was eventually granted by the Supreme Court as the first was deemed unfair because it denied the defendants their constitutional right to competent legal council. The Communist Party’s International Labor Defense took up the cause of the Scottsboro Nine employing the legal talents of Samuel Leibowitz to prove their innocence. In the second trial, Bates admitted that her story was fabricated, but nevertheless, another all white jury returned guilty verdicts.

After these convictions were once again overturned, Leibowitz’s legal team, seeing an impossibility of justice in the racist south, had the charges of four of the nine dropped while the others were given lengthy prison sentences. They all eventually made their way out early, but it begs the historical question, “with liberty and justice for all?”

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