Scottsboro Trials

When Lee was a young girl, about six-years-old, there was a highly publicised court case, the Scottsboro Trials, involving several young African-American men.

There are many parallels between the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird and one of the most notorious series of trials in the nation's history ‚ the Scottsboro Trials. On March 25, 1931, a freight train was stopped in Paint Rock, a tiny community in Northern Alabama, and nine young African American men who had been riding the rails were arrested. As two white women - one underage - descended from the freight cars, they accused the men of raping them on the train. The accused were taken to Scottsboro jail.

Within a month the first man was found guilty and sentenced to death. There followed a series of sensational trials condemning the other men solely on the testimony of the older woman, a known prostitute, who was attempting to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act, prohibiting taking a minor across state lines for immoral purposes, like prostitution.

Although none of the accused were executed, a number remained on death row for many years. The case was not settled until 1976 with the pardon of the last of the Scottsboro defendants.

This trial has many similarities to Tom Robinson's trial including the word of a poor White woman against the word of an African-American man and the fact that there was no real evidence.

Read about the details of the Scottsboro trials, view film documentaries, listen to original radio broadcasts and read the trial transcripts at these web sites:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/scottsboro/
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/scottsboro/scottsb.htm
http://library.thinkquest.org/12111/scottsboro/scottsbo.htm
http://www.courttv.com/archive/greatesttrials/scottsboro/
http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/library/scottsboro/

See the film Heaven's Fall. Available on DVD
Film details: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425094/
Offical site: http://www.heavensfallthemovie.net/
Activities Tasks
1
Research the Scottsboro Boys trials.
2
Present an oral presentation to the class outlining the legal injustices that occurred in these trials.
3
What parallels are there with events in To Kill a Mockingbird? Create a table with two columns: one each for the Scottsboro trials and Tom Robinson's trial. In each column write down the basic facts about each case and highlight the similarities between each case.
4

Poet Langston Hughes wrote about the lives and experiences of his fellow African Americans. He produced a volume of works based around the Scottsboro case. Read the following poem and answer the questions.

a. Why does Hughes suggest the 'world' should 'turn pale'?

b. What can you discover about the people listed by name in the poem?

c. What is Hughes suggesting about the '13 Black Boys' by associating them with these figures?

d. Given the way that Hughes frames the situation of the Scottsboro men, what can you say about his perspective on race relations?

 

SCOTTSBORO

8 BLACK BOYS IN A SOUTHERN JAIL WORLD, TURN PALE!

8 black boys and one white lie.
Is it much to die?
Is it much to die when immortal feet
March with you down Time's street,
When beyond steel bars sound the deathless drums
Like a mighty heart-beat as they come?

Who comes?

Christ,
Who fought alone

John Broan

That mad mob
That tore the Bastile down
Stone by stone.

Moses.

Jearme d'Arc.

Dessalines.

Nat Turner.

Fighters for the free.

Lenin with the flag blood red.

(Not dead! Not dead!
None of those is dead.)

Gandhi.

Sandino.

Evangelista, too.

To walk with you -

8 BLACK BOYS IN A SOUTHERN JAIL
WORLD, TURN PALE!

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