The Trial That Stirred a Movement

In 1931, nine young black men, ages 13 to 21, were arrested and falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a train traveling through Scottsboro en route to Memphis, Tennessee. Multiple trials were held in which all-white juries found guilty Charlie Weems, Ozzie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson, Eugene Williams and Andrew and Leroy Wright. These convictions started an uproar of debate and national protest, bringing to light the racism that existed within the legal system during the Jim Crow era. Eventually Ruby Bates, one of the white women, confessed she and Victoria Price had been pressured into false testimony. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937, and prosecutors dropped the rape charges against five of the men. The other four received another conviction, sentencing them to death or decades in prison. Although their lives were spared, it was almost 20 years before the last defendant was freed from prison.

 

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