Eighty years after nine black teenage boys were arrested and falsely accussed of raping two white girls in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931, they have all finally been given posthumous pardons by the state’s parole board.
The parole board was unanimous in its decision in the case that came to symbolize racism in the Deep South. All but one of the defendents served lengthy prison sentences and the last surviving defendent died in 1989.
The boys who were arrested were: Olen Montgomery, 17; Clarence Norris, 19; Haywood Patterson, 18; Ozie Powell, 16; Willie Roberson, 16; Charlie Weems, 16; Eugene Williams, 13; and brothers Andy, 19, and Roy Wright, 13.
The founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum in Scottsboro, Shelia Washington, said the pardons “give the history books a new ending — not guilty.”
The Scottsboro Boys case became a symbol of the tragedies wrought by racial injustice. Their appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court rulings that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries.
The case inspired songs, books and films. A Broadway musical was staged in 2010, the same year a museum dedicated to the case opened in Scottsboro.
Five of the men’s convictions were overturned in 1937 after one of the alleged victims recanted her story. One defendant, Clarence Norris, received a pardon before his death in 1976. At the time, he was the only Scottsboro Boy known to be alive. Nothing was done for the others because state law did not permit posthumous pardons.