Ala. board approves pardons for ‘Scottsboro Boys’
MONTGOMERY, ALA. | Alabama’s parole board wrote a new ending for the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” rape case Thursday by approving posthumous pardons more than 80 years after their arrests.
The board made the unanimous decision during a hearing in Montgomery for three black men whose convictions were never overturned in a case that came to symbolize racial injustice in the Deep South in the 1930s.
“Today, the Scottsboro Boys have finally received justice,” Gov. Robert J. Bentley, a Republican, said.
Nine black males were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in northeast Alabama in 1931. The men were convicted by all-white juries, and all but the youngest defendant was sentenced to death, though none was executed and the majority of the convictions were overturned that decade.
The state senator who got a law enacted to permit posthumous pardons said the Scottsboro Boys’ lives were ruined by a justice system that ignored evidence, and that it was time to right a wrong.
“It is a promising reminder of how far we have come as a state since those regretful days in our past,” state Sen. Arthur Orr, Decatur Republican, said.
Shelia Washington, the founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Scottsboro, said the pardons “give the history books a new ending not guilty.”
The boys’ appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court rulings that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries. The case inspired songs, books and films. A Broadway musical was staged in 2010, the same year a museum dedicated to the case opened in Scottsboro.
Five of the men’s convictions were overturned in 1937 after one of the alleged victims recanted her story. One defendant, Clarence Norris, received a pardon before his death in 1976. At the time, he was the only Scottsboro Boy known to be alive. Nothing was done for the others because state law did not permit posthumous pardons.
The three Scottsboro Boys considered by the parole board on Thursday were Haywood Patterson, Charles Weems and Andy Wright.
The board said the other five — Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright — weren’t eligible under the new law because their convictions were overturned on appeal and the charges dropped.
Ms. Washington said some of the Scottsboro Boys changed their names and started new lives.
“They didn’t know how much they meant in history while they were alive,” she said.
Shelia Washington, director of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, and state Sen. Arthur Orr celebrate Thursday in Montgomery, Ala., after the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles pardons three of the Scottsboro Boys.