Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Were the convictions inevitable ?
847
views

In March of 1931, in poverty ridden Alabama, nine black boys were accused of raping and assaulting two white women. All of the boys were sentenced to death 12 days after they were accused with “a politically explosive charge in the South” (Linder). The case gained an international following after the Communist Party declared it a “murderous frame-up” (Linder). International attention brought light to the various procedural errors in the case such as incompetent counsel and lack of an impartial jury. The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the convictions because of the procedural errors, however, when the boys were retried on several different occasions, the jurors unanimously found them guilty. The Scottsboro case further exposed America as an extremely racist country, in which black lives were disposable. The socio-economic conditions of the 1930’s and sectional strife, made the guilty verdicts of the boys inevitable.

During the first trial, the Scottsboro Boys were represented by incompetent lawyers, Stephen Roddy and Milo Moody. Due to the boys’ race and financial situation, they could not find or afford a capable lawyer in the state of Alabama to defend them. Consequently, they had to settle for Roddy, a real estate attorney and Moody, a “forgetful seventy-year-old local attorney who hadn't tried a case in years” (Linder). The boys had 20 minutes to conference with the attorneys, who encouraged them to plead guilty. In addition, the defense did not question the women, Ruby Bates (17) and Victoria Price (21), about the contradictions in their testimonies. Guilty verdicts and death sentences were announced for eight of the boys. There was a mistrial in the case of Roy Wright, the youngest of the boys, because the prosecution requested a life sentence, however, an all-white jury sentenced him to death. The boys’ 14th amendment rights to counsel and equal protection of the law, were severely infringed upon. The boys, who were extremely poor, could not afford proper counsel to prove their innocence. The trial court did not provide them with counsel, either. Moreover, the Scottsboro boys were also convicted and sentenced by all-white, racist, male jurors who disregarded logical reasoning and convicted the boys due to their race. The guilty verdict of this first trial was inevitable because there was no proper defense and the exclusion of black people on the jury, coupled with the racial bias of jury members, created an atmosphere in which the boys could be easily convicted.

The inevitability of the verdict is best evidenced by Powell v Alabama (1932), in which the Supreme Court of the united states reverses the convictions on the grounds that the Scottsboro boys were denied proper due process of law. The justices believed that the trial was unfair because “(1) they [the Scottsboro boys] were not given a fair impartial and deliberate trail; (2) they were denied the right of counsel; and (3) they were tried before juries from which qualified members of their own race were systematically excluded” (Powell v Alabama). Due to the fact that racism was socially acceptable at the time, especially in Alabama, the Supreme Court avoided creating controversy by neglecting to expand on the first and third points. In an attempt to downplay rising racial tensions in Alabama, the Court only focuses on the denial of proper counsel. The Court explicitly states that because of the “illiteracy” of the boys, it was the duty of the trial court to provide proper counsel to ensure a fair trial. If an illiterate individual is denied proper counsel, sentenced to death and executed, it would be “a gross violation of the guarantee of due process of law.” The blatant denial of the boys’ right to competent counsel, by the trial court, resulted in a guilty verdict because there was no feasible way to prove the boys’ innocence.

Displeased with the reversal of convictions Alabama decides to retry the nine black boys, this time adhering to the legal precedent set in Powell v Alabama in hopes of putting the boys to death. For the second trial, The Communist Party succeeds in becoming the Scottsboro boys’ new representatives. The Communist employ a famous New York lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, to be the lead defense attorney for the Scottsboro case. In Alabama, and the rest of the south, the Communist, and Leibowitz, were not a respected people because their fundamental values differed from those held in the south. Communist believed that all groups of people are equal whereas, in the south, the common belief was that blacks were inferior to whites. Sectionalism fueled the southerners to convict the boys even more because any motion made by the defense was seen as an attack on southern “social order and way of life” (Linder). This is best seen when Leibowitz makes a motion to quash the indictment, on the grounds that black people in Alabama were excluded from jury rolls. To southern observers, Leibowitz’s motion was simply “unforgivable” and his motion was denied. Although Leibowitz points out the many fallacies within Price’s testimonials, deconstructs the validity of the prosecution’s only witness and has Bates testify for the defense, the Scottsboro boys are still found guilty and are again sentenced to death. This guilty verdict was also inevitable because the boys’ right to equal protection was violated again by the exclusion of black people from participating on jury rolls. The racial discrimination against black people in Morgan County, the place where the trial was being held, resulted in all white, racist juries. As expected, a jury of bigots and racist individuals returned a biased and racially charged verdict.

The Supreme Court of the united states highlights the racial discrimination that was a part of the second set of trials in ‘Norris v Alabama (1935).’ The exclusion of qualified black individuals on juries for more than a generation “established the discrimination which the constitution forbids.” This violates the boys’ right to equal protection, as stated in Powell v Alabama, because they are more likely to be convicted by an all white jury than a racially diverse jury. This case reverses the convictions and integrates juries.

Although the Scottsboro cases were draining Alabama financially, the state decided retry the boys again. This time, there was a compromise. Charges against four of the boys would be dropped and none would receive the death penalty. However, the five remaining boys received excessive sentences. With competent counsel and an integrated jury, the boys are still found undeniably guilty for a crime that never took place. This final conviction for majority of the Scottsboro boys was inevitable because the boys were black. The racist atmosphere that was so prominent in Alabama, made it impossible for any of the boys to be seen as innocent. The guilty verdict was simply a product of the racial bias that was exacerbated by the media. The media was used as a tool to incriminate the boys solely due to their race. One headline emphasizes on the race of the boys stating, “All Negroes Positively Identified ... Nine Black Fiends Committed Revolting Crime” (Linder). It was common belief that black men wanted to rape white women, therefore, it was easy for the media to use the race of the boys to incriminate them in the public eye. However, had the boys been white, there would have been no guilty verdict. The jury would have adhered to social expectations and normalities. This means that in order to protect white-male supremacy in the south, white boys would've be found innocent of all charges.

The Scottsboro case is extremely significant in American history because it clearly demonstrates many of the injustices that African American people had to face within the legal. Despite amending the Constitution with the 14th amendment, black people were still openly discriminated against in all parts of American society. The many trials and convictions of the nine Scottsboro boys clearly show that the American judicial system does not protect black people. The hesitance of the Supreme Court to take a stance on integrated juries and equal protection in Powell v Alabama, demonstrates that black lives were not important in America. The Scottsboro Case represents America in its truest form, a racist country fueled on white supremacy and ignorance. The case is horrifyingly similar to many incidents that continue to take place today. Black people are commonly perceived to be violent and dangerous just because the color of their skin. Due to this black people are continuously and unfairly targeted by law enforcement, just like they were decades ago during the Scottsboro trials.


Works Cited

  • Linder, Douglas O. "The Trials of The Scottsboro Boys." The Trials of The Scottsboro Boys. N.p., 1999. Web. 31 Oct. 2016.
  • Norris v Alabama (1935). Supreme Court of the United States. Feb.-Apr. 1935. Print.
  • Powell v Alabama (1932). Supreme Court of the United States. Oct.-Nov. 1932. Print.


Cover Image Credit: Haiku Deck

Popular Right Now

The Trump Presidency Is Over

Say hello to President Mike Pence.

39820
views

Remember this date: August 21, 2018.

This was the day that two of President Donald Trump's most-important associates were convicted on eight counts each, and one directly implicated the president himself.

Paul Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman for a few months in 2016, but the charges brought against him don't necessarily implicate Trump. However, they are incredibly important considering was is one of the most influential people in the Trump campaign and picked Mike Pence to be the vice presidential candidate.

Manafort was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to file a report of a foreign bank account. And it could have been even worse. The jury was only unanimous on eight counts while 10 counts were declared a mistrial.

Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, told a judge that Trump explicitly instructed him to break campaign-finance laws by paying two women not to publicly disclose the affairs they had with Trump. Those two women are believed to be Karen McDougal, a Playboy model, and Stormy Daniels, a pornstar. Trump had an affair with both while married to his current wife, Melania.

And then to no surprise, Fox News pundits spun this in the only way they know how. Sara Carter on Hannity said that the FBI and the Department of Justice are colluding as if it's some sort of deep-state conspiracy. Does someone want to tell her that the FBI is literally a part of the DOJ?

The Republican Party has for too long let Trump get away with criminal behavior, and it's long past time to, at the very least, remove Mr. Trump from office.

And then Trump should face the consequences for the crimes he has committed. Yes, Democrats have a role, too. But Republicans have control of both chambers of Congress, so they head every committee. They have the power to subpoena Trump's tax returns, which they have not. They have the power to subpoena key witnesses in their Russia investigations, which they have not.

For the better part of a year I have been asking myself what is the breaking point with Republicans and Trump. It does not seem like there is one, so for the time being we're stuck with a president who paid off two women he had an affair with in an attempt to influence a United States election.

Imagine for a second that any past president had done even a fraction of what Trump has.

Barack Obama got eviscerated for wearing a tan suit. If he had affairs with multiple women, then Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell would be preparing to burn him at the stake. If they won't, then Trump's enthusiastic would be more than happy to do so.

For too long we've been saying that Trump is heading down a road similar to Nixon, but it's evident now that we're way past that point. Donald Trump now has incriminating evidence against him to prove he's a criminal, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is just getting started.

Will Trump soften the blow and resign in disgrace before impeachment like Nixon did? Knowing his fragile ego, there's honestly no telling what he'll do. But it's high time Trump leaves an office he never should have entered in the first place.

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Yes, Serena Williams Was In The Wrong At The US Open

Possibly the greatest tennis player of all time decided to take a stand, but was it the right time?

14
views

To put it simply, I lost some respect for Serena Williams. At the US Open final, Williams caused an absolute scene when the umpire, Carlos Ramos, gave her three penalties while facing off against Naomi Osaka. This is what I thought of the entire situation.

Before watching the highlights I had no idea that you couldn't coach in tennis, and in fact, it seems as if most umpires do not care. But that doesn't mean all umpires are the same, and in fact, Ramos is holding the game to a higher standard by enforcing all of the rules. This was Williams first penalty and when it was announced she went straight up to Ramos and told him how she doesn't cheat and that she thought he was giving her a thumbs up. Her coach Patrick Mouratoglou in an interview afterward said: "I was coaching but I didn't think she looked at me."

Yeah, so that wasn't true.

Williams would later break a racket out of frustration and that is an automatic penalty, which means she is giving Osaka a one-point lead in the next game. After Ramos announces that it is her second penalty, this is where the fuse is lit. Williams berates Ramos continually saying that she isn't a cheater and demands an apology and also that brings up that he attacked her character. She also brings up that she has a daughter and she stands up for what's right for her, which at the time made absolutely no sense. It is clear in the rules that receive coaching and breaking a racket can both be penalties, so fighting Ramos on this will do you no good.

This goes on for a good while, she keeps coming after Ramos and at one point tells him not to talk to her and he leans back into his position, but then she keeps on going. Right before the next match is about to start she calls him a thief, and I know for a fact that Ramos has heard worse things said to him, but I believe that he gave her the harassment penalty because of the entire affair. I mean she was chirping this guy for the entire break, what'd you want him to do? Referees in any sport can not let players (no matter how good they are) feel like they are above their authority. That's not how sports work.

Now, since this is Williams third penalty she has now lost an entire game (that's pretty big) and now this is where Williams starts her speech about sexism. In her defense, you might be able to find some pretty convincing evidence that some umpires do in fact officiate differently based upon sex.

But in the case of Ramos, he's pretty consistent with penalizing all genders. In the 2018 Wimbledon Novak Djokovic complained to him about breaking his racket and was given a penalty. In the 2016 Olympics he gave Andy Murray a penalty because he said "stupid umpiring," he was also given a penalty. He even told Venus Williams to have her coach stop giving her hand signals (you'd think her own sister would tell her about this). Ramos has a history of penalizing the best players on the biggest stages, so this is just another day on the job for him.

Ultimately, where most of my frustration lies was how this robbed an amazing moment away from Namoi Osaka. When Williams went at Ramos for penalizing her for a game I'm not all that sure why she was so angry because anyone could see that Osaka was going to win anyway. This girl was DESTROYING her and the added game only sped things up a little bit. After Williams' argument, she had the crowd with her and halted the momentum of Osaka for a bit. But she was able to overcome it and still win the match. Despite all of that, it still wasn't enough for the fans to not boo her when receiving the trophy.


Think about this Osaka is just 20 years old, grew up loving Serena Williams, and now is about to dethrone her idol and win her very first US Open. Oh and by the way she's the first Japanese player MALE OR FEMALE to EVER WIN a grand slam final. Safe to say this is a big moment in her life. Now it will be replaced with the memory of controversy and an entire stadium booing a 20-year-old girl for upsetting one of the greatest tennis players ever. It got so bad that she had to apologize for her victory.

Everyone in the crowd who booed this girl for doing absolutely nothing wrong should be ashamed of themselves. And so should Serena Williams.

Related Content

Facebook Comments