25 March 1931

The Scottsboro Boys are arrested in Alabama and charged with rape.

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African American teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in Alabama in 1931. The case became a symbol of racial injustice and a focal point for the civil rights movement in the United States.

The incident occurred on March 25, 1931, when a group of white and black youths were riding a freight train through Jackson County, Alabama. A fight broke out between the white and black youths, leading to the intervention of a group of white men who were also riding the train. In an attempt to avoid arrest for violating Jim Crow laws, the white youths accused the black youths of raping two white women who were also on the train.

The Scottsboro Boys were quickly arrested and charged with rape. Despite a lack of evidence and inconsistencies in the accusers’ testimonies, the defendants were swiftly convicted by all-white juries in a series of highly prejudiced trials. The first trial lasted only a few days, and the all-white jury sentenced eight of the nine boys to death.

The case attracted national and international attention, sparking protests and outrage over the blatant racism and injustice. The Communist Party USA took up the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, viewing their case as an opportunity to expose racial oppression in the United States.

The legal battle for the Scottsboro Boys spanned over many years, with numerous retrials and appeals. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in Powell v. Alabama (1932), ruling that the defendants had been denied adequate legal representation at their first trial. This decision led to the overturning of the convictions and a retrial.

Despite the Supreme Court’s intervention and the international attention the case received, the Scottsboro Boys continued to face discrimination and injustice. Some of them were retried and convicted again, while others remained imprisoned for many years. Some were eventually released, but their lives were forever impacted by the ordeal.

The Scottsboro Boys case highlighted the systemic racism and inequality within the American justice system and played a significant role in shaping the civil rights movement of the 20th century. It served as a rallying cry for those advocating for racial justice and spurred important legal reforms regarding the rights of defendants, particularly in cases involving racial prejudice.