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Scottsboro Boys

A Long Ride, The Accusers, Legal Wrangling, Samuel Leibowitz, Second Chances, Continuing The Good Fight

Accused rapists

In 1931 the United States was in the second year of the Great Depression (1929–41; the period, following the stock market crash in 1929, of depressed world economies and high unemployment). On March 25 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Southern Railroad freight train eased out of the station headed west. Dozens of people, men and women, black and white, jumped on board for a free ride. For nine young black men from the South, the ride would change their lives forever.

Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Charles Weems, Eugene Williams, Andy Wright, and Roy Wright ranged in age from twelve to twenty years. Five were from Georgia and four were teenagers from Tennessee. They had hopped the train in search of government work in Memphis, Tennessee. All nine were arrested for the alleged rape of two white women on the freight train. They were taken to jail in nearby Scottsboro, Alabama.

"We have fought the good fight. We have kept the faith and will carry on. The nine innocent Scottsboro Boys will not die so long as decent men and women survive and there exists in Washington the Supreme Court of our land."

Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz

Most of the young men spent the next two decades in courtrooms and prisons and would become known as the Scottsboro Boys. Their case would change U.S. criminal law The nine men accused of rape in what became known as the Scottsboro case shortly after their arrest in 1931. (© Bettmann/Corbis)
and result in two important Supreme Court decisions affecting criminal procedure.

For More Information


Carter, Dan T. Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1969.

Goodman, James. Stories of Scottsboro. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

Patterson, Haywood, and Earl Conrad. Scottsboro Boy. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1950.

Web Sites

"Scottsboro: An American Tragedy." PBS Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/scottsboro/index.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"Scottsboro Boys." Decatur/Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau. http://www.decaturcvb.org/Pages/Press/scotboy.html (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law