alabama lawmakers voted unanimously to give posthumous pardons to the scottsboro boys monday. nine black teens were wrongly convicted of raping two white women in 1931. the state house voted 103-0 & the senate voted 29-0. governor robert bentley signed the bill, which amended one of america's greatest racial injustices.
"this is great for alabama, it was long overdue," said democratic state rep. laura hall of hunstville, who sponsored the bill in the house. the state sponsor, republican arthur orr, said it's unfortunate the pardons came after all the scottsboro boys have died - but the bill lets alabama write "a better chapter." orr said, "their lives were ruined by the convictions. by doing this it sends a very positive message nationally & internationally that this is a different state than we were many years ago."
all but the youngest member of the group, whose ages ranged from 13 to 19, were imprisoned on death row after convictions by all-white juries. all were eventually freed without executions, although several suffered for many years in prison. the last of the men died in 1989.
the scottsboro boys' case has been memorialized in books, films, museums, songs & a 2010 broadway play. their oppressive legal saga set important precedents, including supreme court decisions outlawing the practice of systematically excluding black people from juries & guaranteeing the right to effective counsel.
house speaker mike hubbard, a republican, said, "you can't change history, but you can take steps to right the wrongs of the past. the fact that this passed unanimously shows that today's 21st century alabama is far removed from the one that caused such pain for so many so long ago."
benjamin todd jealous, president & ceo of the naacp, applauded the correction of "an historic miscarriage of justice." but he also noted alabama is involved in a supreme court case over the voting rights act & the state has passed laws critics say discriminate against immigrants in the country illegally.
jealous said, "like so many communities that have tried to move beyond their ugliest chapters, alabama has learned you can only move forward if you are honest about your past. it's heartening that this was a unanimous vote. unfortunately, alabama still needs to confront its present."
susan glisson, executive director of the institute for racial reconciliation at the university of mississippi, was grateful for the measure. glisson said, "it is an opportunity for us to understand that period, especially the ways in which blacks were deemed inferior & therefore not worthy of equal treatment before the law."
the scottsboro boys' tragic episode began on a freight train traveling through alabama during the great depression - many people would sneak aboard for free rides between cities. there was a fight between blacks & whites on the train. the two women made false rape accusations in hopes of avoiding arrest.
lynch mobs gathered outside the jail, but were warned off by the white sheriff & rebuffed by national guardsmen called in by the governor. after the conviction, the communist party seized the case as an opportunity to appease black people & liberals. the party got one of its lawyers named as defense counsel & also secured the services of famed defense attorney samuel liebowitz. there were years of appeal, some successful, as one of the women recanted & said their claim was dishonest.
decades later, when the idea of pardons was raised, the governor & parole board said they didn't have the legal authority to pardon the deceased. but sheila washington, founder of the Scottsboro boys museum, which opened in 2010, pursued the legislation. washington said the pardons would finally shine a light on "this dark injustice."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.