Jail Head Asks Troops as Mob Seeks Negros
Digital History ID 1126
In 1931. nine poor, virtually illiterate African American youths, ages 13 to 19, were charged with raping two white women. To prevent the young men from being lynched, the governor of Alabama had to call out the state national guard. Twelve days after the arrest, eight of the nine were convicted and sentenced to death. A mistrial was declared in the case of the ninth, a 13 year old when the jury could not agree whether to electrocute him or imprison him for life.
Over the next decade there would be seven retrials and two landmark Supreme Court decisions. Once the high court ordered a retrial on the grounds that the defendants had an inadequate defense and a second no blacks served on the jury. Despite an obvious miscarriage of justice, the young men spent between six and 19 years in prison.Not until 1976 was the last of the Scottsboro Boys released from prison, decades after one of the accusers recanted her rape accusation.
Riot Feared in Scottsboro Ala., After Arrest of Nine, Held for Attacking Girls
Special to The New York Times
Huntsville, Ala., March 25
Fearing a mob outbreak at Scottsboro, county seat of Jackson County, following the arrest of nine Negroes charged with attacking two white girls, a detachment of militia was ordered to the Jackson County jail tonight.
Sheriff Waun at Scottsboro asked for troops when a crowd which had gathered about the jail became threatening. The Sheriff wired to Montgomery that the crowd numbered 300.
Later, however, the sheriff reported that the mob was dispersing as the night was cold, and danger seemed averted.
The girls, who gave their names as Ruby Bates, 23, and Victoria Price, 18, were in a box car with seven white men when the Negro tramps got in at a point between Stevenson and Scottsboro. They threw six of the white men off the train.
The seventh and the girls are said to have fought desperately until the white man was knocked unconscious.
The men who had been thrown out of the car telegraphed ahead to Paint Rock. When the train arrived there a Sheriff's posse surrounded the car and captured the Negroes after a short fight.
The Negro prisoners and their white accusers were taken to Scottsboro where the Negroes were formally charged with criminal assault on a woman, a capital offense in Alabama. The white men who had been in the box car were held as material witnesses.
April 11, 1931
Condemned Negroes Riot In Alabama Jail
Eight Sentenced to Die For Attack on White Girls Are Subdued and Manacled.
Gadsden, Ala., April 10 (AP)
Protesting against their sentences, eight negroes condemned to death at Scottsboro yesterday for attacking two white girls rioted in the Etwah County jail today, but were subdued by guards, who placed them in irons.
The Negroes, who were returned here under military escort after being sentenced for attacking the girls traveling as hoboes, aboard a freight train, shouted demands for special food, beat on the cell bars and tore up the bedding.
Their shouts were heard some distance from the jail and Sheriff T. L. Griffin, who occupies an apartment on the lower floor of the jail, removed his family.
Sheriff Griffin appealed to military authorities for aid, and colonel W. M Thompson and Captain C.C. Whitehead went to the jail.
With sufficient guards to prevent an attempted break, the "Bull pen," in which the Negroes were confined, was opened and guards handcuffed the prisoners in pairs.
Governor Miller at Montgomery today received protests in the case from the International Labor Defense in New York and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights of New York and the Anti-Imperialist League of the United States. All charged the Negroes "were railroaded." The governor declined to comment.
July 1, 1931
Fight For Doomed Negroes
German Communist Papers Play Up American Case---New Riots Occur.
Special Cable to The New York Times
Berlin, June 30
Communist newspapers, to which may be attributed responsibility for recent mob attacks on the American Consulates at Dresden and Leipzig, are making a capital of the Scottsboro convictions.
They are fervently appealing to Reds everywhere to "save the victims of judicial murder," asserting that the Negroes are wholly innocent of the crimes for which they were sentenced.
A gang of young Communists smashed half a dozen windows of the American Consulate General in Bellevue Street late tonight. Police captured five.
Following communistic rioting in the East Side, in which one policeman was shot dead, Berlin's Chief of Police banned the huge International Communist Athletic Meet scheduled for next Sunday.
Eight Negroes from Tennessee and Georgia were sentenced in Scottsboro, Ala., on April 9 to die in the electric chair for attacks on two white girls of Huntsville Ala.
July 18, 1931
Volleys Disperse Alabama Negroes
One Is Killed, 3 Are Wounded and 17 Arrested at Death Sentence Protest Meeting.
Sheriff And Deputy Shot House is Burned at Camp Hill in Battle With Posse-- "Reds" Are Blamed by Police Chief
Camp Hill, Ala., July 17 (AP)
A meeting of Negro radicals near here last night at which Governor B.M. Miller was threatened with violence unless he liberated the eight Negroes sentenced to death for attacking two white girls led to clashes with posses today in which on Negro was killed, two white officers and three Negroes were wounded and seventeen Negroes were arrested.
An armed posse was summoned late today from Tallapoosa and Lee Counties as reports spread that Negro radicals planned a second protest meeting tonight in the woods near Waverly, Ala..
A small house occupied by a Negro family near the place where the meeting was held was destroyed by fire soon afterward. It was reported at first that a church in which the Negroes had met was burned.
A posse of eight men, reported from Notasulga, Ala., late today that they were still trailing a Negro from Chattanooga, Tenn., who for two months has been organizing Negroes in this section in what confiscated minute books described as "the Society for the Advancement of Colored People."
Chief of Police J.M. Wilson said that last night's meeting was in protest against the death sentence imposed against the eight Negroes at Scottsboro, Ala., in April.
Sentry Accused of Opening Fire
The disorders, in which more than 200 shots were fired, began when Sheriff J. Kyle Young, Deputy Sheriff Jack Thompson and Chief Wilson approached the church where the meeting was in progress.
Ralph Gray, a Negro, on picket duty near the church, was said to have fired on the officers as they sought to question him.
Sheriff Young was struck in the side by a charge from a shotgun and Thompson was wounded in the wrist. Gray dropped under a volley from the officers and was left for dead. Later he was picked up by an unidentified motorist and taken home.
A physician, called to treat him, notified a posse, and at the Gray home they met another volley. In the exchange Gray was struck several times and died en route to jail with eight companions who had taken refuge in the house.
The most prolonged battle between possemen, numbering 150, and members of the organization occurred near the church. It was here that the three Negroes were wounded.
Two of the wounded were taken to the Dadesville jail. The other one, Chief Wilson said, "went to cut stovewood." Asked when he would return, the chief said "He has lots to cut," and declined to comment further.
Alleged "Demands" Recounted.
The meeting was the second which officers have broken up, the first having been on Wednesday night at Dadeville, where a quantity of alleged inflammatory literature was seized.
The literature, Chief Wilson said, urged members to demand social equality and intermarriage with the white race, to demand $2 a day for work and not to ask but "demand what you want and if you don't get it take it."
Chief Wilson described the leaders as "Communist organizers" from Chattanooga.
Several of the Negroes sentenced to death in Scottsboro were from Chattanooga. They were charged with attacking two white girls who were riding on a freight train. The international Labor Defense, a Communist organization, has organized a world wide protest against the sentences on the grounds that the charges were a "frame up" and without factual basis. The case is now before the Alabama Supreme Court.
Governor Silent on threats
Montgomery, Ala., July 17 (AP)
Governor R. M. Miller today said that he had no official reports of the disturbance and radical meetings of Negroes in Tallapoosa County, and that unless local authorities requested troops he would not send National Guardsmen into the country.
He made no comments on reports that he was threatened with violence at the meeting last night unless he released the eight Negroes held in Kilby Prison here under death sentence for an attack on two white girls.
The Negroes were sentenced in April to die on July 10, but an appeal to the Supreme Court acted as an automatic stay of execution.
During the trial the International Labor Defense of New York demanded that the Governor immediately release them or 'be held personally responsible." Since the conviction more than 1,700 protests have been received by Governor Miller from various branches of the Labor Defense in this and other countries.
Labor Defense Charges "Murder."
J. Louis Engdahl, secretary of the International Labor Defense, in a statement here last night charged that Ralph Gray, the Negro killed in the Alabama affray, "was murdered by Sheriff Carl Young of Tallapoosa County."
Declaring that Gray was "on his way to attend a meeting of a share croppers union, which has been in the process of organization over the past few months," the statement continued:
"The Negroes of this county have been organizing against the miserable starvation wages. The plantation owners planned to cut the share croppers off from all food advances, giving a small number of share croppers the alternative of working in the fields or saw mills at wages of sixty to ninety cents a day. The lynchers were after the members and leaders of the union.
"At these meetings the share croppers protested the Scottsboro death sentence against eight young Negroes.
"The Sheriff's posse is now hunting and shooting down Negroes in several towns in that section, as well as raiding and shooting tenant farmers in their homes. This is a deliberate slaughter.
"The International Labor Defense protests the murder of this Negro share cropper by deputies and demands the immediate cessation of the terror let loose by the landowners' police against the share croppers who are organizing for better conditions and protesting the Scottsboro verdict."
December 28, 1931
Darrow In Alabama To Aid Eight Negroes
He and Hays Consult Counsel of Condemned Men on a Defense if New Trial is Granted
Special to The New York Times
Birmingham, Ala., Dec. 27
Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays of New York were here today preparing to take the defense of the eight Negroes convicted and sentenced to death at Scottsboro on a charge of attacking two white girls on March 25.
Mr. Darrow said that he and Mr. Hays had been retained by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They will spend a day or two in Birmingham consulting local lawyers connected with the trial and then will return to New York.
The Supreme Court has set Jan. 18 as the date for hearing the motion for a new trial, and Mr. Darrow and Mr. Hays will appear before the court then. If a new trial is granted they will be in charge of the defense. Among the other agencies that have interested themselves in the Negroes is the International Labor Defense League, which has retained George Chamblee of Chattanooga, for Attorney General of Tennessee.
During the last nine months Governor Miller has received protests on their sentences from England, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, Cuba, several South American countries and many places in this country.
Source: New York Times, March 25, 1931
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