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July 13, 2009
The Scottsboro Boys
The case of the Scottsboro Boys often seemed like one of dueling prejudices. Entrenched racism against blacks, anti-Semitism, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, and regional stereotypes would all be on full display as the Scottsboro Boys grabbed headlines for well over a decade throughout the 1930s. It is a story of cowardice and heroism, of lies and manipulation, of fear and hatred, of caring and commitment, a story in which every facet of the human personality is seen in all its embarrassing weakness and glorious strength.
by Denise Noe
Brawl on a train
Few cases in the annals of American justice have had as far-reaching effects as the “Scottsboro Boys.” Through years of trials, convictions, appeals winding all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and re-trials, the Scottsboro Boys case exposed the way sexual and racial tensions met and exploded in the Jim Crow South. It sent shock waves through the American psyche that reverberate to this day. Scottsboro helped fan the fires of the nascent civil rights movement. It also heightened conflict between that movement and other branches of the American left. While nine innocent youths grew to adulthood in the purgatory of prison, many people rose up to protest the injustice they had suffered and, in the process, move against the racism that made that injustice possible and perhaps inevitable.
The case of the Scottsboro Boys often seemed like one of dueling prejudices. Entrenched racism against blacks, anti-Semitism, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, and regional stereotypes would all be on full display as the Scottsboro Boys grabbed headlines for well over a decade. It is a story of cowardice and heroism, of lies and manipulation, of fear and hatred, of caring and commitment, a story in which every facet of the human personality is seen in all its embarrassing weakness and glorious strength.
“The next time you want by, just tell me you want by and I let you by,” an irritated Haywood Patterson, 19, said to the white youth who had for the second time stepped on Patterson's hand. The black teenager hung onto the side of a freight train and the white teen was walking across the top of the cars.
The white youth responded with a racial epithet.
It was March 25, 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression and Patterson, like the white boy with whom he quarreled, was doing what many impoverished people, blacks and whites, usually men but sometimes women, did on freight trains: hitching a ride to get from one place to another for free. It was illegal to “hobo” on these trains but even train workers tended to look the other way during this desperate period. Patterson was accompanied by three close friends who, like himself, were from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and sought work in Memphis, Alabama. They were Eugene Williams, 13, and brothers Andrew and Leroy “Roy” Wright who were 19 and 13 respectively.
Patterson and the white boy exchanged insults and the latter shouted, “All you black bastards better get off!”
Racist protocol of the period dictated that blacks submit to whites but Patterson would not take guff from anyone. “We got as much right here as you!” he replied.
The train slowed at a steep grade. The white boy and his friends jumped off the train. They grabbed rocks and tossed them at the four black youths hanging off the sides of the cars. Patterson, Williams and the two Wrights took cover inside a freight car. The train stopped at Stevenson, Alabama, where Patterson and his buddies went off. They met up with some other black youths who planned to hop aboard the train. These black youths agreed to help Patterson and his friends if the whites confronted them again.
The white youths clambered back aboard the train, the blacks returned to it as well and the fight resumed. Soon the blacks got the best of it and began chasing the whites off the train.
By the time only one white, Orville Gilley, was left, the train had picked up speed and it was likely he would be severely injured if not killed from going off it. In Patterson's words, the blacks “took pity on him” and pulled him back into a car as he hung from a side.
The bloodied whites made their way to the Stevenson train station. They reported that a group of blacks had picked a fight with them and that they wanted to press charges against their attackers. The stationmaster got on the phone to alert authorities in the next Alabama town, Scottsboro. Those on the other end of the line said that the train had passed through a few minutes before and that its next stop was Paint Rock, Alabama.
Posse at Paint Rock
According to Dan T. Carter in Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, Alabama Jackson County Sheriff M. L. Wann telephoned Deputy Sheriff Charlie Latham and told Latham to “capture every Negro on the train and bring them to Scottsboro.” Latham deputized a group who lined up along the Paint Rock train station. The train stopped and the posse went on board to search the freight cars.
The posse found nine black youths, a young white man named Orville Gilley, and, much to their surprise, two young white women decked out in men's caps and wearing overalls covering their dresses. The women were close friends Victoria Price, 21, and Ruby Bates, 17, who were returning home to Huntsville, Alabama. They had ridden to Chattanooga in search of mill work but failed to find it.
There are differing reports as to exactly when and under what circumstances an accusation of rape was made. It seems most likely that, as one of the reports recorded in Stories of Scottsboro states, a deputy asked the women “if the Negroes had bothered them.” Bates and Price knew that racist ideology held that black men would rape white women at the first opportunity and that the officers questioning them believed the arrested men had enjoyed such an opportunity. They probably also feared that they themselves might be arrested for illegally riding the train.
The women gave the answer that they probably believed was expected: “Yes.”
The flames of fear
The blacks were taken to jail, initially under the impression that they were being charged for the brawl. In addition to Patterson, Williams, and the Wrights, were five others, all strangers to the four friends and to each other.
Charlie Weems at 20 was the only one out of his teens. Clarence Norris and Ozie Powell were older teenagers. There were also two youths who had taken no part in the brawl. They were Olen Montgomery, blind in his left eye and possessing partial vision in his right, and Willie Roberson, afflicted with advanced syphilis and gonorrhea that had caused his genital area to painfully swell, who walked with a cane.
When the group arrived in Scottsboro, Sheriff Wann sent Ruby Bates and Victoria Price for a medical examination.
The rape accusations led a mob to assemble in front of the jail.
Sabrina Crewe and Michael V. Uschan write in The Scottsboro Case, “some 500 angry white people gathered around the jail in Scottsboro.”
The accused, who would become known as the “Scottsboro Boys,” were not the only ones behind bars for the alleged rapes. As James R. Acker reports in Scottsboro and Its Legacy: The Cases That Challenged American Legal and Social Justice, “Price, Bates, and the several white boys who had been on the train and had fought with the blacks, were all held in the Scottsboro jail as material witnesses.”
Southern white women: genteel ideal vs. often grubby reality
The South idealized white women as pure and genteel. The reality could be far removed from that ideal. James Goodman in Stories of Scottsboro notes that Ruby Bates and Victoria Price “lived with their mothers in unpainted shacks in the worst sections of town.”
Ruby Bates's mother, Emma, had picked cotton and taken in laundry. Ruby's hard-drinking, violence-prone father also picked cotton. Emma fled more than once from her husband. She worked for awhile in a Huntsville mill but was unemployed and widowed by 1931. Ruby was her sole support.
Victoria Price's mother had worked in a mill until left disabled by a fall. Like Ruby, Victoria was the sole support of both herself and her mother.
Bates and Price were what most Southerners reviled as “white trash” – until they accused blacks of raping them. In their alleged violation, they became martyrs to many whites. Price would come to relish her new role.
Sadly, the lies were soon supported by one of the accused. As Carter wrote, “Roy Wright – when accused by Orville Gilley in the presence of newsmen – began insisting that he and his three friends were innocent; the other five had assaulted the girls.”
A dodderer and a drunk for the defense
Most local attorneys did not want to be associated with blacks accused of raping white women. Lawyer Milo C. Moody agreed to represent the Scottsboro Boys, perhaps because the 69-year-old no longer had much business. Carter quotes an observer describing Moody as “doddering.”
In Chattanooga a leading black physician, Dr. P. A. Stephens, summoned a group called the Interdenominational Colored Ministers' Alliance and they raised $50.08 for the defense. Even in 1931, it was a small sum for an attorney's retainer but Dr. Stephens and the Alliance found a taker in attorney Stephen R. Roddy. Like Moody, Roddy's skills were modest. Drinking often hampered what skills he had. Retainer in hand, he headed for Scottsboro.
Trials of all nine defendants began April 6, 1931.
Judge Alfred E. Hawkins presided. Circuit Solicitor H. G. Bailey prosecuted.
For reasons not clarified at the time, Bailey moved to have the trials separated as follows: Clarence Norris and Charlie Weems tried first; Haywood Patterson tried second; Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Andy Wright and Eugene Williams fourth; Roy Wright tried last.
Hawkins granted this motion and the trial of Norris and Weems started that same day.
Alabama law at the time limited jury service to a county's “male citizens” between the ages of 21 and 65. It did not state that jurors had to be white but the entire jury pool was white.
Victoria Price gave her testimony in a straightforward but flamboyant manner. Acker records, “She testified that she and Ruby Bates had traveled from their hometown of Huntsville, Alabama to Chattanooga on Tuesday, March 24. They spent the night with Mrs. Callie Brochie, a friend of [Victoria's] who lived in Chattanooga on Seventh Street. When their search for a mill job proved unfruitful, the two women hopped a freight train to return home shortly before noon on the 25th.” She described a fight breaking out between black and white youths on the train and the whites, except for Gilley, being tossed off.
“Are you going to put out?”
Then she got to Clarence Norris. Price said he had demanded, “Are you going to put out?”
She testified she replied, “No, sir, I am not.” Then six of the defendants overpowered her. For what seemed like hours, she elaborated, six men – Weems, Norris, the Wrights, Patterson, and Montgomery – raped her.
In an attempt to appeal to the common sentiments of the day against women with non-marital sexual experience, Roddy tried to cast doubt on Price's testimony on cross-examination by showing she had been promiscuous. Bailey objected and Judge Hawkins sustained.
Bailey called Dr. R. R. Bridges, one of the physicians who had examined Price and Bates within an hour and a half after the alleged attacks, to the stand. Bridges testified that he had found only a few small bruises and scratches on her. “She was not lacerated at all,” he said. “She was not bloody, neither was the other girl.”
Bridges said he had found semen in Price's vagina but that the spermatozoa in it was “non-motile,” meaning it was no longer alive. The significance of this would not be clarified in this trial. In answer to a question from Bailey, Bridges said it was “possible” that Price and Bates had been raped.
Dr. Marvin Lynch testified that there had been a fair amount of semen in Bates's vagina but a very small amount in Price's. He testified that, “the vagina was in good condition on both of the girls. There was nothing to indicate any violence about the vagina.”
Although neither Weems nor Norris was charged with raping Ruby Bates, the prosecution wanted her to corroborate Price's story.
On the witness stand, Bates’s demeanor contrasted sharply with that of Price. Bates appeared nervous and often hesitated before replying to questions. Bates supported her friend's testimony in basics. Acker reports, “She confirmed Price's testimony that the two young women had spent the previous night at Mrs. Brochie's house on Seventh Street in Chattanooga and had sought jobs in a mill.”
Weems, Norris – and a disaster
The defense called Charlie Weems to the stand. The youth appeared sure of his answers as Roddy questioned him. Weems recalled how Patterson had claimed some white boys had started a fight and Weems agreed to help the blacks.
Then Bailey cross-examined Weems. Carter writes, “In rapid succession, [Bailey] fired question after question . . . But Weems held his ground.”
Roddy and Moody put Clarence Norris on the stand. Carter describes Norris as “fidgeting” as he testified.
Bailey cross-examined and Norris appeared to panic. To the horror of defense counsels, Norris testified that “every one of them have something to do with those girls after they put the white boys off the train.” Norris described a gang rape but claimed he alone was innocent.
A flustered Roddy requested a recess. Judge Hawkins granted it.
Roddy offered to plead not only Norris but Weems as well guilty in exchange for a sentence of life imprisonment instead of death. Bailey refused the offer.
Under re-direct-examination, Roddy tried to undo the damage. He showed that Norris claimed to not know whether Price and Bates had worn dresses or overalls. Roddy drew forth the admission that he had recently claimed he had seen no rape but Norris stuck to his new story claiming that not only Weems but all the others accused had raped the women while insisting: “I did not.”
After a brief but dramatic trial, the defense rested in despair.
As the jury retired to deliberate the fates of Norris and Weems, the trial of Haywood Patterson began before an all male, white jury. Price was as confident as she had been at the previous proceeding. Ruby Bates was again nervous and hesitant.
As Bates left the stand, the bailiff informed Hawkins that the Norris and Weems jury had reached a verdict. The Patterson jury was escorted into the jury room.
The foreman of the Norris and Weems jury announced, “We find the defendants guilty of rape and fix their sentence at death.”
“The announcement spawned a raucous celebration in the courtroom that quickly spilled into the street,” according to Acker.
At Patterson's trial, Dr. Bridges gave essentially the same testimony he had at the previous trial. The prosecution did not call Dr. Lynch.
The defense called Patterson to the stand. Patterson recalled how he and his friends had hopped the freight train to Memphis in hopes of finding work.
Under cross-examination, Patterson appeared to fall apart. Like Norris, Patterson apparently panicked and thought he could save himself by implicating others. He testified he had seen five of the defendants rape Price but he and his three friends had not. Within minutes, he contradicted himself by saying he had never even seen the females while he was on the train. “I did not see the girls in there,” he insisted. “I did not see any girls in there until we got to Paint Rock.”
Roddy called 13-year-old Roy Wright to the stand. He described the fight and how the whites were forced off the train except for Orville Gilley.
Then Roy Wright, like Norris before him, dropped a bomb on the defense. He testified to seeing the accused – save for himself, his brother Andy, and his friends Williams and Patterson – “down there with the girls and all had intercourse with them.”
Roddy and Moody did not make a summation. The prosecution made a brief one, the judge instructed the jury on the law, and Patterson's case went to the jury.
Five on trial
As a jury pondered Patterson's fate, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Andy Wright, Eugene Williams, and Olen Montgomery went on trial, once again before an all white, male jury.
“It was easy to see why the solicitor had postponed these cases until last, as they presented a number of problems,” Carter wrote in his book. “In the first place, each defendant so far had told a relatively plausible story and had held to it through cross-examination. Norris, Weems, and Patterson had all been positively identified by Victoria Price, the state's star witness. In this trial, however, it was up to Ruby Bates to point out at least three of the defendants.”
Additionally, Roberson's advanced venereal diseases had left his genitals painfully swollen and Montgomery had limited vision. Both conditions would make it difficult to rape.
Price testified that the first man “to put his hands on me” was the man “with the sleepy eyes, Olen Montgomery.” Montgomery had raped her while Williams held an open knife above her and Roberson held her legs open. Others ran excitedly about shouting, “Pour it to her! Pour it to her!” Price firmly stated that Montgomery, Andy Wright, and Williams had raped her and that she had seen Powell and Roberson rape Bates.
Word came that Patterson's jury had reached a verdict after deliberating for only twenty-five minutes. Judge Hawkins ordered the jury for the present trial out of the courtroom. The Patterson jurors trooped in. The verdict was read: Patterson was guilty and sentenced to death.
The trial of Powell, Roberson, Andy Wright, Williams, and Montgomery resumed, with the state calling Bates to the stand. As usual, she was shaky. However, she did testify that she and Price had been to Chattanooga in search of work and spent the night at Mrs. Brochie's establishment. When talking about the alleged events on the train, Bates testified that the defendants, armed with both knives and guns, had barged into the gondola in which she and Price were riding.
Dr. Bridges went through the same evidence he had given in the two previous trials. Bridges testified that Roberson's sex organ had been “very sore” so that intercourse would inevitably be “attended with some pain” but speculated it would still be “possible.”
The defense called Roberson to the stand. He testified he had been on the freight train to seek help for his illnesses in Memphis. Acker reports that Roberson testified to getting into an empty boxcar toward the end of the train. He said he had not even known about the fight and could not have committed rape. Acker quotes Roberson as testifying, “There was something the matter with my privates down there; it was sore and swelled up . . . I am not able to have sexual intercourse.”
Andy Wright testified to the fight but claimed innocence even of that. Carter describes Bailey's cross-examination as “brief and fiery.” Bailey asked, “Did you not tell her after the rape, 'Yes, you will have a baby after this?'”
Andy Wright replied, “I did not have any such talk as that; I swear that I was not in that car where the women were.”
Regardless of Andy Wright's denials, the scenario Bailey suggested had to have a powerful emotional impact on the jurors. It brought up the universal specter of the horror of rape being extended by the victim's pregnancy and, equally horrifying to a jury of the time period, the specter of a white woman giving birth to a black baby.
Montgomery testified, “If I had seen them, I would not have known whether they were men or women.”
For the first time in any of the Scottsboro Boys trials, Orville Gilley testified. “I saw those five in the car,” Gilley stated. “I saw every one of those five in the gondola.” He was asked if Price and Bates were there as well and he replied, “Yes, sir.” Acker writes that Gilley “offered nothing to confirm that the women had been raped and he was asked no questions on cross-examination.”
After a trial lasting one day, the case went to the jury.
One defendant had yet to be tried: Roy Wright. He was 13 and, as Carter reports, “Under Alabama law he could be tried only in a juvenile court unless the state brought waiver proceedings.”
On April 9, 1931, the jury for the other five announced its verdict: guilty. It recommended death for each.
Despite the prosecution having asked for only life imprisonment for the 13-year-old Roy Wright, seven of his jurors wanted to sentence him to death. After being told the jury was deadlocked, Judge Hawkins declared a mistrial.
Later that same afternoon, Judge Hawkins, with tears in his eyes, sentenced the other eight defendants to die.
Letters poured into Governor Miller's office asking for mercy and the Alabama Interracial Commission met in Birmingham to pass a resolution demanding a “careful review of these cases in the courts.”
Communist and NAACP tug of war
Perhaps the most important communications received by both Judge Hawkins and Alabama Governor Miller were telegrams demanding a “stay of execution and opportunity to investigate and prepare for a new trial” that were signed by the International Labor Defense (ILD), the legal arm of the Communist Party, U. S. A. Its chief lawyer was Joseph Brodsky.
The case also attracted the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The organization was then headed by Executive Secretary Walter White who, like other NAACP officials, was alarmed by the communist entrance into the case. Acker writes, “The NAACP accused the ILD of exploiting the case for propaganda purposes and being willing to make martyrs of the Boys to advance its political agenda.”
The ILD recruited respected attorney George W. Chamlee Sr. to take over the case.
Soon Brodsky headed to the Birmingham jail where he spoke with the Scottsboro Boys. Brodsky told them that the ILD wanted to do everything possible to save them. Then he asked them to sign an affidavit giving the ILD control of their cases. Impressed by the man's apparent sincerity and absence of racial prejudice, Andy Wright signed and the others, who were unable to write their own names, placed their marks on the document.
Upon learning of this agreement, Walter White sent word to Dr. P. A. Stephens, a member of the Chattanooga Negro Ministers' Alliance, telling him that the Chattanooga Negro Ministers' Alliance must be made aware of the communist philosophy of the ILD and that the Boys must be persuaded to cut the connection. Stephens convened a meeting of the alliance in which he informed them of the nature of the ILD and then contacted Roddy.
Roddy drove to the Birmingham jail for a chat with the Boys. Roddy told them that the ILD could do them more harm than good and they signed a statement Roddy had prepared telling the ILD to leave the case.
Acker writes that there were “months of wrangling and altering allegiances” that left the Boys “bewildered.” He continues, “After a last-ditch effort, negotiations broke down . . . the NAACP bowed out of the case.”
ILD: No fair trial
The ILD attorneys went before the Alabama Supreme Court on January 21, 1932. Brodsky argued that the juries were not composed of “peers” of the defendants since blacks had been excluded. Brodsky also argued that biased newspaper accounts together with the presence of crowds obviously hostile to the defendants had made a fair trial impossible. Finally, Brodsky told the court that Roy Wright should have been tried in a juvenile court because of his age.
Chamlee argued that defense counsel had been inadequate.
Alabama Attorney General Thomas G. Knight Jr. argued for the state. It would seem that he had an advantage in arguing before the Alabama Supreme Court because one of the sitting justices on it was his father, Justice Thomas Knight Sr.
“Why should we assume that the gathering of a curious mob would have influenced the jurors and judge of the trial court?” Knight asked.
The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions of all defendants except Eugene Williams, who was granted a new trial because he was a juvenile when first tried and should have been tried in a juvenile court. (Instead of getting a new trial, Williams was left to languish in jail for six years before being released in 1937.)
Justice Thomas Knight Sr. wrote of the argument that the Scottsboro Boys had not been denied a fair trial because blacks were excluded from the state's juries: “The State of Alabama has the right, within constitutional limitations, to fix the qualifications for jurors.”
After this defeat, the ILD engaged Walter Pollak, a lawyer known for his acumen in constitutional law. On May 27, 1932, Pollak presented preliminary arguments to the United States Supreme Court and the highest court in the land agreed to review the Scottsboro Boys case.
Pollak made the same arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court that Brodsky and Chamlee had previously made before the Alabama Supreme Court.
On November 7, 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all Scottsboro convictions, without addressing the exclusion of blacks from juries. It made its decision solely on the grounds that the defendants had been denied adequate counsel. The ruling stated that the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment meant that inadequate counsel rendered a trial unfair.
To continue fighting the good fight, the ILD approached Samuel Leibowitz, a New York City attorney who was widely considered one of the top legal talents in the country, second only to Clarence Darrow in reputation. The ILD told this usually expensive lawyer that it would not be able to pay him any fee at all and asked him to take the case for humanitarian reasons. Leibowitz agreed to defend the Scottsboro Boys without payment because, he said, the case “touches no controversial theory of economy or government, but the basic rights of man.”
On March 13, 1933, Leibowitz arrived in Alabama and took over leadership of the case.
Knight encountered a worry as he prepared for trial: the Huntsville police could not find Ruby Bates. Her mother said Ruby left the family home on February 27, 1933. While Bates was a much weaker witness than Price, the prosecution still regarded Bates's testimony as vital. However, that testimony had been thrown into question by events earlier in the year.
As Carter reports, “On January 5, 1932, Huntsville police had arrested Miron Pearlman . . . on a routine charge of drunkenness. When they searched the ex-prize fighter, however, they found a letter which caused consternation from Scottsboro to Montgomery.” It was a letter written by Ruby Bates to a boyfriend. Bates wrote, in part, “. . . is a goddam lie about those negros jassing me . . .”
Pearlman told police that Chamlee had paid Pearlman to get Bates drunk and talk her into writing a letter claiming she had not been raped. Police found Bates. She signed an affidavit disavowing the letter: “I was so drunk that I did not know what I was doing.”
The new trial of Haywood Patterson opened March 27, 1932, with Judge James E. Horton Jr. presiding.
“You're a pretty good actor yourself”
For the fifth time, Price dramatically told her story of rapes. She identified Patterson as one of those who had attacked her.
In preparation for his cross-examination of Price, Leibowitz had asked the Lionel Corporation to build a replica of the train. The attorney asked Price if the replica resembled the fateful train.
Price replied, “That is not the train I was on. It was bigger, lots bigger. That is a toy.”
In answer to a question from Leibowitz, Price stated she was bleeding from her vagina after the rapes.
Leibowitz returned to her previous statement that she had stayed at the boardinghouse of Callie Brochie the night before being on the train. He questioned her closely about exactly where that establishment was located. Was it two miles from the train yard? “No sir, I wouldn't say two miles,” she answered.
When Leibowitz remarked that she was “a little bit of an actress,” Price retorted, “You're a pretty good actor yourself.”
A man named Lester Carter
Leibowitz questioned her on her activities on the day prior to the incident.
“Do you know a man by the name of Lester Carter?” Leibowitz inquired.
She said she knew that he was thrown off the train but had not known him prior to that.
Leibowitz's manner showed that he considered this of crucial import. He said, “Mrs. Price I . . . want to ask you that question again and give you an opportunity to change your answer if you want to. Did you know Lester Carter before that day, yes or no?
For the first time, Price appeared anxious. “Before in Scottsboro – he – was on the train.”
Leibowitz pressed, “Before this day on the train did you know Lester Carter?”
“I never did know him,” she replied.
Leibowitz then turned to the subject of Jack Tiller. In 1931, Victoria Price had been convicted in Huntsville, Alabama of fornication and adultery with the married Tiller. Both had been fined and sentenced to a short stint in jail. Leibowitz asked, “Did you have intercourse with Tiller a short time before you left Huntsville?”
Price denied it.
Leibowitz queried her about the woman who owned the boardinghouse where she had claimed to stay the night previous to getting on the train. The lawyer said, “The name of Mrs. Callie you apply to this boarding house lady is the name of a boarding house lady used by Octavus Roy Cohen in the Saturday Evening Post series – “Sis Callie,” isn't that where you got the name?” Knight instantly objected and Judge Horton sustained the objection.
Dr. R. R. Bridges again took the stand. Knight questioned him and he repeated his previous testimony about finding semen in Price's vagina. Leibowitz then asked him about Price and Bates’s physical condition. The physician testified that neither woman had dilated pupils and each had normal pulse and respiration – readings unlikely just an hour and a half after suffering gang rape. Dr. Bridges also testified that the sperm in the women were non-motile and that sperm usually remains motile in the vagina from 12 to 48 hours after being deposited in the vagina – thus making it unlikely, if not impossible, that the semen in the women was the result of intercourse less than two hours prior to the examination. He also said there was no bleeding from Price's vagina.
The second physician to examine Price and Bates after the alleged rapes, Dr. Marvin Lynch, was scheduled to take the stand, but before calling him, Knight asked for a recess to confer with Judge Horton. The recess was granted and Horton, Knight, and Lynch met in another room in the courthouse.
Carter writes, “When Knight and the other lawyers for the state returned to the courtroom, however, the doctor asked Horton if they could meet privately.” They did. Carter continues, “The young doctor, who appeared unnerved and agitated, went straight to the point. Contrary to Knight's statement, said Lynch, his testimony would not be a repetition of Dr. Bridge's, because he did not believe the girls had been raped.”
Horton exclaimed, “My God, doctor, is this whole thing a horrible mistake?”
The judge urged Dr. Lynch to testify but the doctor cowered and said, “If I testified for those boys I'd never be able to go back into Jackson County.” Horton excused him.
When Leibowitz began the defense portion of the trial, he led off with a witness who would contradict Price's testimony about having spent the evening before the train ride in a boardinghouse.
Dallas Ramsey, who lived near the Chattanooga railroad yards, testified that on the morning of the alleged rapes, he strolled through a wooded area near his home and saw two women. Later that same morning, Ramsey claimed to have seen the two women and a man board a freight train. Leibowitz indicated Price and asked if this was one of the women Ramsey had seen. “Yes sir, I recognize her,” the witness replied.
Chattanooga gynecologist Dr. Edward A. Reisman testified. “To my mind it would be quite inconceivable that six men should have intercourse with one woman and not leave telltale traces of their presence in considerable quantities in the vagina.”
Then Leibowitz gave an explanation for the small amount of semen that had been found in Price by calling Lester Carter to testify. Carter told the jury that he had been in the Huntsville County Jail for vagrancy in January 1931 where he met Price and Tiller who were serving time for adultery.
After Carter's release, Price arranged a date between Carter and Bates. On the evening of March 23, 1931, the four met up together. In a wooded area known as a “hobo jungle,” Carter claimed, “I had intercourse with Ruby Bates and Jack Tiller had intercourse with Victoria Price.”
Carter testified that he rode a rail headed to Chattanooga as did Bates and Price. The three encountered a man who said his name was “Carolina Slim” but whose real name was Orville Gilley. Now a group of four, they found their way to a hobo jungle where Carter again enjoyed sexual intercourse with Bates. He did not know for sure what, if anything, Price and Gilley might have done.
Just as the defense rested, Leibowitz received a surprise that would result in a genuine shock for the rest of the people assembled in the courtroom.
Ruby Bates - witness for the defense
A messenger handed Leibowitz a note. Upon reading it, Leibowitz approached Judge Horton. The defense attorney requested a recess that was granted.
When the court reconvened, Leibowitz called Bates to the stand. Bates appeared nervous, as she had in her prior courtroom appearances. This time, though, she was better dressed than she had been in those appearances.
Leibowitz got right to the point. On the evening of March 23, 1931, he asked, “Did you have intercourse with Lester Carter?”
“I certainly did,” Bates replied, her answer forthright but her demeanor subdued.
Did Price have sex with Jack Tiller in Bates's presence? “She certainly did,” Bates testified.
Leibowitz asked if rape had taken place on the freight train. Bates replied that she had not been raped and that she did not believe Price had been either and that the two of them had been together throughout the train ride.
Bates related how she had left Huntsville for Montgomery after that fateful train ride. She hitched a ride to New York. Her conscience gnawed at her because of the lies she had told. She heard of a famous Christian minister who resided in New York named Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick. Bates mispronounced his name as “Fostick.” She arranged a visit with him and he urged her to return to Alabama and tell the truth.
Knight began cross-examination by taking note of the witness's obviously improved wardrobe. “Where did you get that coat?” the prosecutor asked.
Bates mumbled, “I bought it.”
He demanded to know where she got the money to buy it and she answered, “I don't know.”
“You don't know?” Knight mocked. “Where did you get that hat? Who was the beneficent donor?”
The judge asked her more gently, “Do you know?”
Bates said, “Dr. Fostick of New York.”
Wade Wright gave the summation for the prosecution. He urged the jury to “show them that Alabama justice cannot be bought and sold with Jew money from New York!”
Leibowitz leapt to his feet. “I move for a mistrial,” he said. “I submit that a conviction in this case won't be worth a pinch of snuff in view of what this man just said.”
Judge Horton rebuked Wright for what the jurist characterized as an “improper” remark but denied the motion for a mistrial.
In the defense summation, Leibowitz pointed out how evasive Price had often seemed. He discussed the testimony of Dr. Bridges and Dr. Reisman and insisted that their statements indicated it was physically impossible for Price and Bates to have been raped. He said that Carter's testimony easily explained the small amount of semen found in the vaginas of the two alleged victims and urged the jury to accept Bates's recantation.
Leibowitz tried to undercut the appeal to anti-Semitism that Wright had made with his “Jew money” comment. “I'm not getting a fee in this case and I'm not getting a penny toward expenses,” he said.
The trial had lasted two weeks. Carter describes the case as going “to the jury just before 1 p.m.” on a Saturday and the jury sending word at 10 a.m. on Sunday that they had reached a verdict. They found Patterson guilty and sentenced him to die.
“Those bigots whose mouths are slits”
Leibowitz was understandably upset. In an interview with a reporter he lashed out in a manner guaranteed to arouse the resentment of Southerners in general. The perplexed reporter asked him how the jury could have come to the decision it did and Leibowitz replied, “If you ever saw those creatures, those bigots whose mouths are slits in their faces, whose eyes pop out like a frog's, whose chins drip tobacco juice, bewhiskered and filthy, you would not ask how they could do it.”
Offense to this comment was widespread throughout the South with the Montgomery Advertiser representative of many publications in deriding the attorney as the “voice of bigotry.”
When court convened on April 18, Judge Horton criticized Leibowitz's statement as a “millstone around the necks of the defendants.” He cited it in postponing the trials of the other Scottsboro Boys until there was time for the offense caused by it to subside.
“Women of the character”
Judge Horton reconvened court on June 22, 1933 for what was expected to be Patterson’s formal sentencing. He discussed the major points of Price's story and pointed out that if she were telling the truth, there should have been independent corroboration for many parts of it. For example, an hour and a half after a rape by six men, one would expect to find large quantities of semen in the vagina and that the sperm would be motile. Price had also testified that her vagina was bleeding after the attack.
Yet doctors had found only a small amount of semen and non-motile sperm. They had found no vaginal bleeding. Thus, Judge Horton concluded, “this woman was not forced into intercourse with all of these Negroes upon that train, but that her condition was clearly due to the intercourse that she had had on the nights previous to this time.”
Unfortunately, Judge Horton did not rest his conclusions simply on the absence of physical evidence to support the rape allegations. In a case rife with dueling prejudices, he buttressed his decision with the ancient Madonna/Whore dichotomy. He said, “History, sacred and profane, and the common experience of mankind teach us that women of the character shown in this case are prone for selfish reasons to make false accusations both of rape and of insult upon the slightest provocation or even without provocation for ulterior purposes.”
The judge vacated the jury’s verdict and ordered a new trial for Haywood Patterson.
While Horton can be faulted for his stereotyping of uneducated, lower-class women, he showed himself to be a judge willing to put principle ahead of his own career. This unpopular decision would doom him to defeat when he ran for re-election the next year in 1934.
After Horton vacated Patterson’s verdict, state officials put the Scottsboro cases under the jurisdiction of Judge William Washington Callahan.
In November 1933, Haywood Patterson went on trial yet again.
Judge “Speedy” Callahan
In Judge Callahan’s conduct of the trial, he often appeared decidedly unsympathetic to the defense. Callahan had long been a well-respected jurist but he was also one who had, as Carter notes, “Very fixed ideas about how trials should be conducted.” Carter elaborates that Callahan had told friends he wanted to “debunk the Scottsboro case” because he felt that it had simply been over-publicized and received more attention than it deserved.
He made it clear that he wanted the trial to progress at a smart pace. Before the trial proper, as Leibowitz questioned prospective jurors, the judge told him to “hurry it along” and sometimes cut his questioning short with “that's enough on that.”
An all-white, all-male jury was seated and the prosecution brought Victoria Price to the stand to once again tell her story, which she did with her usual aplomb.
On cross-examination, Leibowitz tried to lay the foundations for the contention that semen in Price's vagina had been from previous voluntary intercourse. Leibowitz queried Price as to who she had been with on the train to and from Chattanooga.
An irritated Callahan sternly warned Leibowitz, “I can't allow the time of the court wasted on matters so immaterial. You mustn't ask that question again.”
With much of the defense case effectively gutted, Leibowitz valiantly pushed forward to try to trap Price in contradictions.
As Carter reports, “At Scottsboro and before Judge Horton she insisted Norris had tried to hurl her from the train; now she was first certain and then 'pretty sure' it was Patterson. Although she had vividly testified of a '.45 caliber pistol' held by Patterson, she finally acknowledged under cross-examination that she did not know one gun from another. She recalled that it was Patterson who fired the gun, although she could not remember that at Scottsboro, less than two weeks after the incident. She became hopelessly confused about where she was struck, or how hard, or how seriously.”
Orville Gilley, traveling poet
The prosecution called Orville Gilley. Like both alleged victims and defendants, Gilley spent much of his time going from place to place on freight trains. However, he asserted that he was no run-of-the-mill hobo. “I am an entertainer,” he proudly testified. “I recite poetry and take up a collection after I finish, in hotel lobbies, restaurants, out on the streets, any place.” Gilley backed up Price's story.
Leibowitz cross-examined Gilley on events prior to the alleged attacks. Gilley said he and Price had been together in Chattanooga but Callahan cut off the line of questioning.
Then Leibowitz pointed up something odd about Gilley's story: that he testified to witnessing these horrors and doing nothing about them. Gilley admitted that at “no time while this raping was going on did I ever make any attempt to notify any engineer, or any officials of that train what was going on in this gondola car.”
The defense badly wanted Ruby Bates to testify to her recantation but was forced to make do without her because she was in the hospital.
At this trial, for the first time, the prosecution did not call either doctor who had examined Price and Bates in the aftermath of the alleged rapes.
So when the defense commenced, Leibowitz called Dr. Bridges to the stand on November 28 as a witness. The doctor testified that there was “no blood at all” dripping from Price's vagina. He continued, “I saw no blood on her face or her forehead.”
In summation, Prosecutor Bailey conceded that Price and Bates were not the sort of women that most Southerners idealized. He argued that these impoverished women were to be respected for seeking honest, humble work rather than “to rouge their faces and stand on the street corners.” Bailey ridiculed the defense suggestion of a frame-up and appealed to the jurors' sense of local pride.
In the defense summation, Leibowitz once again tried to appeal to distaste for women who engage in non-marital sex. He claimed he would not be defending the accused had the accusations been brought by a “decent, respectable, Southern white woman.” However, he said that Price was a “lewd woman” and a “girl tramp.”
He discussed the conflict between Price's testimony and that of Dr. Bridges and asked, “Who's on the level in this case, this doctor or Victoria Price?”
The jury retired to consider the fate of Haywood Patterson. Within minutes, the court was filled with white, male prospective jurors for the trial of Clarence Norris.
The next day, Patterson's jury returned with its verdict: “We find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment and fix his punishment at death.”
The dedicated Leibowitz keeps trying
The next trial of Clarence Norris began before Judge Callahan and an all white, male jury. The dedicated, unpaid Leibowitz plugged away. Carter writes that when Price “testified that she was struck in the face with the butt end of a pistol, Leibowitz borrowed one of the deputy's pistols, handed it to her, and demanded to know which was the butt end and which was the muzzle. She stared at it for a moment and then mumbled that she did not know; the only thing she knew about pistols was what she had 'been told.'”
Repeatedly Leibowitz sought to bring out Price's sexual history and just as repeatedly Judge Callahan blocked that line of questioning even when it concerned extremely recent history directly relevant to the semen doctors had found in her after the alleged rapes.
On December 6, 1933, the jury returned with its expected verdict and sentence: Norris was convicted and sentenced to death.
Judge Callahan sentenced Patterson and Norris to be executed on February 1, 1934 but the appeals Leibowitz filed soon after automatically gave them stays.
As appeals wound their ways through the higher courts, Leibowitz found himself reeling under an unexpected blow. As Carter put it, “Two ILD attorneys had been caught red-handed trying to bribe Victoria Price.”
In June 1934, a man named J.T. Pearson, claiming to represent Victoria Price, wrote to ILD officials that Price might retract her accusations for a payment. Using the alias Daniel Swift, Samuel Schriftman, an attorney associated with the ILD, began negotiating with Pearson.
Pearson had not actually been working with Price’s knowledge or her behalf but he knew how to get in contact with her and did so when the ILD told him she could get $500 for recanting. When Pearson relayed this offer to Price, she refused it. Without telling Pearson about it, she contacted Huntsville police and reported the attempted bribery. They advised her to play along.
In late September, Pearson offered her $1,000. She appeared to accept.
Schriftman and Brodsky associate Sol Kone arranged to meet Price in a Nashville hotel where the pay-off was to take place. Carrying a briefcase filled with $1,500 all in $1 bills, Schriftman and Kone flew to Nashville. They may have taken along $500 more than was agreed upon because they thought Price could attempt some last minute dickering.
Pearson picked up Price in a car and they headed for Nashville. On the way to that city, police forced Pearson to the side of the road and arrested him. At the same time, other police arrested Schriftman and Kone.
Meeting up with Brodsky, Leibowitz raged that the ILD had “assassinated the Scottsboro Boys with that sort of business.”
Leibowitz and ILD tug of war
When Leibowitz denounced the ILD, they fired him.
The committed Leibowitz believed only he could rescue the Boys from being executed and was determined to hold onto the reins of the case. He won over several black ministers to his side and they obtained affidavits from Norris and Patterson firing the ILD and re-hiring Leibowitz.
The ILD was also determined to hold onto the case. William Patterson, whom Acker describes as “a black attorney from Harlem and the national secretary of the ILD,” appealed to Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Patterson. On October 31, attorney Benjamin Davis and Josephine Norris were at the prison. At their urging, Clarence Norris and Haywood Patterson signed affidavits turning their cases back over to the ILD.
A Leibowitz representative was at the prison the next week. He got affidavits from both Boys returning the case to Leibowitz.
So it went, back and forth, with the young convicted men turning in one direction and then another.
In October, the American Scottsboro Committee (ASC) was formed at Leibowitz's behest. It boasted a prestigious line-up of officers: Its chair was executive secretary of the Federal Council of Churches' department of race relations, Dr. George E. Haynes, and its directors included famed performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Leibowitz and ILD lawyers hammered out a compromise: Leibowitz and Chamlee (no longer associated with the ILD) would defend Norris and ILD attorneys Fraenkel and Pollak would defend Patterson.
The U.S. Supreme Court review began on February 15, 1935. Leibowitz argued that Norris's conviction should be overturned because “Negroes” had been systematically excluded from the jury. ILD attorneys argued similarly for Patterson.
The defense attorneys won. A new trial was ordered for Norris and Patterson's case was ordered to be again reviewed by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Several opposing organizations that were concerned about the Boys began negotiating over control of the case. The NAACP, the ACLU, the ILD and the League for Industrial Democracy (LID, affiliated with the Socialist Party) met to discuss the Scottsboro Boys. They agreed that Leibowitz, who had done so much for the Scottsboro Boys, nevertheless presented a problem because of prejudice against him as a Jew and a Northerner, coupled with the offense occasioned by his outburst against previous jurors.
These groups met with Leibowitz. They said that they would support him as chief counsel if he would allow a Southern attorney to take the more prominent role in the courtroom proceedings. Leibowitz agreed.
In December 1935, the NAACP, the ILD, the ACLU and the LID formed a “Scottsboro Defense Committee.”
Civil rights activist Allan Knight Chalmers became SDC chair. At the 1936 trial of Haywood Patterson, Huntsville, Alabama attorney Clarence Watts sat beside Leibowitz.
Carter reports, “On Tuesday morning, January 21, the trial finally got underway as Victoria Price told her story for the eighth time.” Once again, Judge Callahan presided before an all white, male jury.
Watts devoted much of the defense to pointing out contradictions in Price's claims. As Carter reports, Watts pointed “out contradictions in her account of how she had fallen and supposedly fainted. W. W. Hill, the station master at Paint Rock, and Tom Taylor Rousseau, the young part-time Jackson County deputy, both said they had first seen her standing at least 10 cars farther back than the gondola where she claimed she had fainted as she got out.”
Leibowitz left all cross-examination to Watts with the exception of one prosecution witness. That witness was Obie Golden, a guard at the Kilby State Penitentiary, who testified that in 1934 Patterson had called out to Golden that he wanted to speak to him and then told the guard, “I am guilty of that crime. Also Clarence Norris and also those other seven up there in Birmingham Jail.” Leibowitz brought out that Golden had not notified the warden about this supposed confession, had not written it down, and had waited over a year and a half before reporting it to the prosecution.
The defense called Lester Carter to the stand to suggest a source for the small amount of non-motile semen found in Price.
Morgan County Solicitor Melvin Hutson, who had succeeded Wade Wright in that office, made the initial prosecution summation. He praised Price, asserting, “She fights for the rights of the womanhood of Alabama” who, whether “in overalls or furs,” are entitled to freedom from attack.”
In the defense summation, Clarence Watts approached the jury in a quiet manner. He told them that he was a “friend and neighbor” of theirs. Watts pointed to the many contradictions in Price's story and the medical evidence refuting it. He appealed to the jury to “do the right thing” and pointed out that when justice is unfair “there is not protection for anyone, man or woman, black or white.”
The trial had lasted all of three days, beginning on a Tuesday and going to the jury on a Thursday.
While the jury deliberated Patterson's fate another was impaneled in the new trial of Clarence Norris.
As the last juror for Norris was being selected that afternoon, word came back that the Patterson jury had reached a verdict.
The clerk read its verdict: “We, the jury, find the defendant Haywood Patterson guilty as charged and fix his punishment at seventy-five years in prison.” The conviction did not come as a surprise but the less than maximum sentence did.
The jury had settled on less than execution because foreman John Burleson argued long and hard for the prison term. His reasons were hardly enlightened. Burleson said blacks had “more animal in 'em than white folks. The beast in 'em overrides 'em and they go temporarily insane and do things they swear they never would do.”
The shock of the slashing
On January 25, heading back to the Birmingham jail after a day in court, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, and Roy Wright were riding in a car driven by Morgan County Sheriff J. Street Sandlin. Deputy Edgar Blalock was in the car to help guard the prisoners.
Sometime before 4 p.m., Ozie Powell slashed Deputy Blalock with a knife, cutting him across the fleshy part of his chin. Although he was behind the wheel, Sandlin reached back to push Powell before stopping the car which was by this time careening from side to side on the highway. After he halted the vehicle, Sandlin fired on Powell.
According to Carter, this scene was witnessed by filling station operator G. F. Anderson, who ran over to the commotion just in time to see Norris and Wright with their hands over their heads, and one of them shouting, “Boss we haven’t got anything on us. You can search us. We haven’t got anything at all.” Anderson saw Powell slumped in the seat, blood streaming from the bullet wound in his head.
Two versions of this altercation emerged. Norris and Wright claimed Powell found a pocket knife in the cell and put it in his pocket. While the three manacled prisoners were in the car, Sandlin and Blalock started bad-mouthing the Boys's attorney. Powell talked back and Blalock slapped him on the mouth. Then Powell slashed Blalock.
The officers claimed the attack had been unprovoked.
Powell sustained permanent brain damage.
On June 14, 1936, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld Patterson's conviction.
On July 12, 1937, a new trial began for Clarence Norris before Judge Callahan and an all white, male jury, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had granted him a new trial based on the all white composition of his previous jury. Thomas Lawson headed the prosecution team. Watts and Leibowitz sat at the defense table.
The prosecution case remained what it had been.
Leibowitz read the previous testimony of the late Dr. Bridges into the record. The trial lasted three days.
The jury took two hours and 30 minutes to convict Norris and sentence him to die.
The trial of Andy Wright began with a surprise move from the prosecution: Lawson announced the state would not seek the death penalty.
Local attorney Watts was not there. The defeats of the previous trials had left him too discouraged to continue. Leibowitz slogged on, giving everything he had to rescue innocent men from injustice.
After a trial of a little over one day and deliberations that lasted an hour and 15 minutes, Andy Wright's jury returned a guilty verdict and a sentence of 99 years.
The trial of Charley Weems, with Leibowitz as sole counsel, began. Again, the prosecution did not ask for the death penalty.
Weems's trial went to the jury on the second day. They deliberated for three and a half hours on an afternoon and two and a half hours the next morning before convicting him and sentencing him to 75 years.
Four set free
On July 24, 1937 the prosecution dropped the rape charge against the now brain-damaged Ozie Powell. It is likely the state did not want to bother with a rape trial since the disabled man was willing to plead guilty to assault of a police officer. Judge Callahan sentenced him to 20 years.
Lawson and Leibowitz went to the bench where they spoke in hushed tones to Judge Callahan. Then Leibowitz went to the county jail. He handed a court order to a jailer. Montgomery, Roy Wright, Roberson, and Williams were let out of their cells and allowed to follow their attorney into waiting cars.
The state had agreed to drop charges against these four. They were free.
Many people were flummoxed at this bizarre compromise. The evidence against all nine Scottsboro Boys was essentially the same so how could these four be innocent and the others guilty? It seemed like either the state had agreed to freedom for four guilty rapists or four other men (Powell being incarcerated for an assault) were unjustly imprisoned.
Lawson read an explanation. He said that the state was convinced of the guilt of those convicted but believed Roberson and Montgomery were innocent because their disabilities made it unlikely they could have committed the crimes. Lawson said the state still believed Price but thought she had made an error of “mistaken identity.” Lawson continued that charges against Roy Wright and Williams had been dropped because they had been 12 and 13 at the time of the rapes and the six and a half years they had spent behind bars was adequate punishment for attacks committed when they were so young.
The U. S. Supreme Court refused on October 26, 1937 to hear Patterson's appeal.
The SDC went directly to Alabama Governor Bibb Graves, asking him to consider pardoning Patterson, Norris, Andy Wright and Weems. Graves agreed to consider it.
In June 1938, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the sentences of Norris, Andy Wright, and Weems. Governor Graves commuted the Norris death sentence to life imprisonment.
In the meantime, the four set free went to New York City with Leibowitz who attempted to steer them into a stable life of vocational training and regular jobs.
The Boys believed they could get rich quick on their notoriety. Thomas S. Harten, a black minister, approached them, offering to become their manager. Harten soon had them on stage where they were billed as “the Scottsboro Boys . . . the symbol of a struggle for enlightenment and human brotherhood which will go on and on until it is won!”
Much of the money from the engagement went into the pocket of their manager while they had to buy new suits at their own expense. Instead of raking in a fortune, they plunged into debt.
Eugene Williams, Willie Roberson, and Leroy Wright eventually settled into fairly normal lives. The nearly blind and alcoholic Olen Montgomery careened from one low-paying job to another and was often jailed for public intoxication and drunk and disorderly conduct.
In October, Governor Graves met with the imprisoned Scottsboro Boys.
Graves informed Chalmers and Hall that the interview had been a disaster. Graves claimed that Patterson and Norris were enraged at each other and that a file fashioned into a knife had been found on Patterson. Said the governor, “They are anti-social, they are bestial, and they are unbelievably stupid and I do not believe they can be rehabilitated in freedom.”
According to Carter, many observers believed the hostilities between Norris and Patterson were just Graves's excuse for avoiding action. There was no evidence that Andy Wright and Weems (Powell was a special case) had been anything other that perfectly polite. It is likely Graves simply feared the political repercussions of pardoning the remaining Scottsboro Boys.
Weems was paroled in November 1943.
Andy Wright and Norris were paroled in January 1944 on the condition that they work at a lumber company near Montgomery. The two men also had to live in a small room and sleep in the same bed. Finding these conditions little better than imprisonment, they fled North.
After receiving official assurances that neither man would be returned to prison if they came back to Alabama, Chalmers persuaded the fugitives to return. Alabama officials broke their word and clapped Andy Wright and Norris behind bars.
In late 1946, Norris received a second parole. Powell was also paroled.
In 1948, Patterson was in a prison work gang. He ran from it, made his way to Detroit, and took refuge with his sister. Two years later, he was arrested by the FBI. Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams refused to sign extradition papers. Alabama officials had no interest in pursuing the matter, thus setting him free.
In 1950 Andy Wright was paroled. Surrounded by reporters, the man who had served 19 years for a non-existent crime said, “I have no hard feelings toward anyone.” Asked about Price, he commented, “If she's still living, I feel sorry for her because I don't guess she sleeps much at night.”
Tragedies and a triumph
Not surprisingly, several of the Scottsboro Boys, who had grown to manhood in prison, met with tragic fates.
About a year after Andy Wright's release, a black woman accused him of raping her teenaged daughter. He was tried and acquitted. However, he saw this as further evidence that he could never escape his past. He said, “Everywhere I go, it seems like Scottsboro is throwed up in my face. I don't believe I'll ever live it down.”
In 1959, 22 years after gaining his freedom, Roy Wright found his wife with another man. He stabbed her to death and then shot himself.
With the help of journalist Earl Conrad, Patterson wrote a memoir entitled Scottsboro Boy. In 1950, Patterson got into a barroom brawl and stabbed a man to death. Convicted of manslaughter, Patterson died in prison from cancer in 1952.
By the early 1970s, Clarence Norris was married and working as a vacuum sweeper in New York City.
One day, he phoned the Alabama Governor's Office. He asked to speak to then-Governor George Wallace. An official came on and Norris related that he was one of the Scottsboro Boys. Norris told how he had “broke my parole” and wanted “to know if Alabama still wants me.” He was told to call the Department of Corrections. Norris did and learned that he was indeed still a wanted man.
Norris asked for assistance from the NAACP. Their attorneys pressured the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles into reviewing the case. After an extensive re-examination of the evidence, the board voted to grant Norris a pardon. However, the governor had to approve it for it to go into effect.
Governor Wallace had achieved fame as a fiery segregationist. He had once tried to block blacks from attending a previously all-white university by standing in a doorway and had proclaimed “segregation forever.” More recently, he had abandoned the segregationist cause and sought, with some success, to make political alliances with blacks.
He signed the pardon.
Several months after being pardoned, Norris met with Wallace who shook Norris's hand and told him he was glad to have signed the pardon. Many observers speculated that Wallace had signed the pardon as a ploy to get black votes. Goodman writes, “After leaving the governor's office, Norris was asked if he cared to comment on Wallace's motives. He said he didn't: 'I'm grateful to the governor, and I told him so. I'll tell him every time I see him.”
“Do I look dead?”
A made-for-TV film entitled Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys aired on NBC in 1976. The version of events recounted in this movie drew largely from Dan T. Carter's Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South.
According to Gilbert Geis and Leigh B. Bienen in Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O. J. Simpson, “The television drama mercilessly portrayed Price as a whore, a perjurer, and suborner of perjury.”
The day after Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys was broadcast, Victoria Price went to an attorney's office and introduced herself to the lawyer. “Does the name Victoria Price mean anything to you?” she asked.
The attorney replied, “But they said you were dead.”
Price pointedly queried, “Do I look dead?”
Carter's massive book was for the most part meticulously researched but ended with two errors. He wrote that both Price and Bates were deceased. When his book was published in 1969 – and indeed when the film aired in 1976 – both women were still living, although Bates was ailing.
Both women filed lawsuits against NBC. Bates died later that year before a court delivered an opinion on her case.
Price sued NBC for slander, invasion of privacy, and libel. She asked for $6 million in damages. Geis and Bienen report, “The judge declared a mistrial on the ground that there existed no material evidence upon which the jury could find in Price's favor on claims of slander or invasion of privacy. When all the evidence had been heard, the same result was reached in regard to the libel claim.” She appealed and an appellate court ruled against her.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear her next appeal. NBC and Price came to an agreement in which she dropped the case in exchange for an amount of money that was not made public. Geis and Bienen write that Price used the money to leave a residence that would usually be called a “shack” and “buy a small house, a dream she said she had carried with her all her life.” Crewe and Uschan note, “She died without ever apologizing for ruining so many lives with her lies.”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074723/#comment, Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys.
Acker, James R, Scottsboro and its Legacy: The Cases That Challenged American Legal and Social Justice, Prager Publishers, Westport, CT, 2008.
Carter, Dan T., Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1969.
Crewe, Sabrina and Uschan, Michael V., The Scottsboro Case, Gareth Stevens Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 2005.
Geis, Gilbert and Bienen, Leigh B., Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O. J. Simpson, Northeastern University Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998.
Goodman, James, Stories of Scottsboro: The Rape Case that Shocked 1930s America and Revived the Struggle for Equality, Pantheon Books, New York, NY, 1994.