This was one of the major (Mis)Trials of the last century. 9 black Boys accused of raping two white women in the segregated, Jim Crow, Alabama of 1931.Amazingly enough, despite high tensions – they didn’t get lynched. All but one of the boys was convicted and given the death penalty. None of the Boys was executed, but spent long terms in jail.
Alabama’s parole board voted Thursday to grant posthumous pardons to men known as the Scottsboro Boys from a 1931 rape case.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted full and unconditional pardons to three of the nine black boys who were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in northeast Alabama in 1931.
The board unanimously approved the pardons for Haywood Patterson, Charlie Weems and Andy Wright after a short hearing in Montgomery. The three men were the last of the accused to have convictions from the case on their records.
“This decision will give them a final peace in their graves, wherever they are,” said Sheila Washington, director of the Scottsboro Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, who helped initiate the petition.
Patterson, Weems and Wright, along with defendant Clarence Norris, were convicted on rape charges in 1937, after a six-year ordeal that included three trials, the recantation of one of the accusers and two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on legal representation and the racial make-up of jury pools.
The men were all convicted by all-white juries, and all but the youngest defendant was sentenced to death.
Alabama ultimately dropped rape charges against five of the accused. Norris received a pardon before his death from Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1976.
Last spring, the Alabama Legislature unanimously passed a law to allow the parole board to issue posthumous pardons for convictions at least 75 years old. The law was specifically designed to allow the pardon of the Scottsboro Boys to go forward.
In October, a group of scholars petitioned the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant pardons to the men. The petition was endorsed by the judges and district attorneys of the counties where the initial trials took place.
“This is a different state than it was 80 years ago, and thank God for that,” said state Sen. Arthur Orr, a Republican from Decatur where the second and third round of trials took place. “It’s an important step for our state to take.”
Under Alabama law, pardons can only be granted to those who have felony convictions on their record. The petitioners had initially hoped the board would review the status of each of the defendants.
The Board’s decision led to a round of applause Thursday morning, but many of those who worked on the pardon called the news bittersweet. Patterson died of cancer in 1952, and many of the other defendants, including Weems and Wright, felt compelled to move out of Alabama and keep a low profile after their release from prison.
University of Alabama professor John Miller, who helped prepare the petition, said at the time of his pardon, Norris was living in New York under his brother’s name.
“With some of them, we really don’t know if they died with their right name, or a different name,” Washington said. “They no longer wanted to be known.”
Weems is known to have moved to the Atlanta area after his release, but his date of death is unknown. Washington said Wright, along with his brother Roy, another one of the Scottsboro Boys, is buried in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“It’s tragic in that those young men’s live were destroyed, all by a very biased and unfair judicial process,” Orr said. “The place where you seek justice did not dispense justice for these young men. It ruined their lives, some more than others, and it affected them to their graves.”