The cases were given the name "Scottsboro" because the youths were first jailed and tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, the county seat of Jackson County. Within two weeks of the arrests, juries had tried, convicted, and sentenced eight of the young men to die in the state's electric chair. Because of his age, thirteen year-old LeRoy Wright was not sentenced.12

     The arrests received little media attention beyond articles and editorials in Alabama and Tennessee newspapers. The accounts of newspapers outside of the region consisted of Associated Press dispatches about the National Guard's protection of the youths.13 The local media, however, virtually tried and convicted the defendants. The Jackson County Sentinel, one of the two weeklies serving Scottsboro, ran a banner headline that read: "All Negroes Positively Identified by Girls and One White Boy Who Was Held Prisoner with Pistol and Knives While Nine Black Friends Committed Revolting Crime." Although the Scottsboro Progressive Age declined to print the details of the accusations, its article was far from objective: "... they [the accusers] are being treated by local physicians for injuries sustained when attacked and assaulted by these Negroes."

     The cases drew more attention as the first series of trials progressed. The brutality of the alleged attacks and the large number of defendants attracted much interest. However, the speed of the trials, the inadequate presentation of the defense's case,14 the contradictory testimonies of the accusers, as well as the harshness of the sentences drew spatterings of protests as the trials ended.

     One group that followed the case was the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Communist Party organization. As soon as the trials ended n April, 1931, the ILD offered to assist the defendants in appealing the verdicts. The NAACP also tried to take over the case but could not wrest it from the ILD. The cases appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which ordered new trials in November, 1932 on the grounds that the defendants received inadequate counsel.

     After several trials, four of the defendants were released in 1937. LeRoy Wright and Eugene Williams were released because of their juvenile status at the time of the incident. Willie Roberson and Olen Montgomery were released because their physical conditions made it unlikely that they participated in the alleged crime.15 In 1938, the governor of Alabama commuted the death sentence of the remaining five defendants to life imprisonment. Each was released on parole between 1943 and 1950.16

 

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February 2000