The Cleveland Call and Post during the Scottsboro era was significant in its own right. The paper's rapid growth and ability to cover the cases on the same level as the major Black newspapers makes it worthy to study. Furthermore, Cleveland was one of the centers of activities on behalf of the defendants. Immediately after the first series of Scottsboro trials, the Communist Party held simultaneous rallies in Cleveland and in New York to protest the guilty verdicts.7

     This is not the first look at the press' treatment of the Scottsboro cases. Daniel W. Pfaff surveyed newspaper and magazine coverage starting from the 1931 arrests through the first U.S. Supreme Court appeal in 1932. His study, which included both Black and daily newspapers, assessed how the press performed its role as a watchdog of truth, fairness, and justice in these racially and ideologically inflammatory cases.8 Pfaff's article does not deal with the press' involvement with the community nor did it assess the journalistic techniques used to cover the cases.

The Scottsboro Cases

     In March of 1931, nine young Black men, aged thirteen to twenty, hopped a freight train to take them from Chattanooga to Memphis, Tennessee. It was common for displaced people during the Depression to live along the rails and to bum rides on the trains. The train's route included the northern sections of Alabama and Mississippi. During its passage through Alabama, a fight ensued when some young white men tried to force the Black men from the train. The Blacks prevailed and forced the whites from the slowly moving freight. In retaliation, the whites reported the fight to the sheriff, and at Paint Rock, Alabama, the Black youths were arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder.9

     During their search of the train, the sheriff's posse also found one white youth and two overall-clad white women. Apparently fearing trouble with the law,10 the women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, told the deputies that the Black youths had raped them. Thus, the beginning of a case that consisted of numerous trials, appeals, and retrials. It would take nineteen years before all of the youths were released from prison and other forty-five years before they were exonerated of the crime.11 The defendants, Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Robertson, Charlie Weems, Eugene Williams and brothers Andrew and LeRoy Wright, were not informed of the rape charges until they were in jail.


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February 2000