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Scottsboro Trial

History Of The Scottsboro Boys, Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From "scottsboro Case Goes To The Jury":

Excerpt from "Scottsboro Case Goes to the Jury"

Reprinted from the New York Times

Published on January 23, 1936

"It takes courage to do the right thing in the face of public clamor for the wrong thing, but when justice is not administered fairly, . . . there is no protection for any one, man or woman, black or white." These words were spoken in January 1936 by defense attorney C. L. Watts at the fourth trial of Haywood Patterson, one of nine young black men known as the Scottsboro Boys, accused of raping two white women. The words struck at the heart of a criminal justice system heavily biased against black Americans. Watts urged the all white jury "to do the right thing" in spite of heavy public pressure for a guilty decision. The "right thing" in Watts's thinking was to deliver a not-guilty verdict.

"It takes courage to do the right thing in the face of public clamor for the wrong thing."

Defense Objections Overruled

A panel of 100 talesmen has been drawn for the Norris trial and Judge Callahan yesterday interrupted Patterson's trial to draw veniremen to sit in judgment of Charlie Williams and Andy Wright next week. He did this in full view of the jury trying Patterson's case and this morning Mr. Watts asked Judge Callahan to declare a mistrial on the grounds that bringing the Negroes manacled into court was prejudicial.

Angrily denying the motion, Judge Callahan pointed out that the defense had registered no objection when he announced what he was going to do. Mr. Watts quickly renewed his motion on the grounds that the mere announcement was sufficient basis for a mistrial and Judge Callahan, with rising choler denied the motion.

"I now move," began Mr. Watts, but Judge Callahan cut him short, declaring that he "did not want to hear any further argument," and that the court would "not be tampered with." Twice later in the day the defense moved unsuccessfully for a mistrial because of comments by Mr. Hutson on the testimony of the Negro defendants.

Before the closing arguments began, the defense succeeded in reading into the record the testimony of Dr. R. R. Bridges, a physician who examined Victoria Price, the complaining witness, within an hour after she was taken from the freight train on which she says she was assaulted by a dozen Negroes.

Physician Contradicts Woman

Dr. Bridges, a Scottsboro physician, was too ill to come to court, but he testified before Judge James E. Horton at one of Patterson's earlier trials that the woman's pulse and breathing were normal and that her body showed no sign of cuts and bruises with which she testified at this trial that she was covered.

The doctor had testified also that he found physical indications which Judge Callahan refused to permit the defense to prove might have been accounted for by events which happened in a hobo jungle in Chattanooga the night before Ruby Bates and Mrs. Price hoboed their way home to Huntsville with their escorts.

One of these, Lester Carter, testified today that he was with the girls aboard the freight train when a fight broke out between colored and white vagrants who were also on the train. It was immaterial, Judge Callahan ruled, whether he and Orville Gilley had spent the night with Ruby and Mrs. Price.

Later when Mr. Knight was extracting in detail from Carter the various stages of his wanderings from coast to coast, Samuel S. Leibowitz, chief defense counsel, protested. Judge Callahan held that the evidence was admissible. Mr. Leibowitz inquired why he had not been permitted to trace the movements of Victoria Price prior to the alleged attack and Judge Callahan threatened to cite him for contempt.

"I won't have insinuations that you were denied something that somebody else got," he shouted. Carter was permitted to testify, however, that he overheard Mrs. Price urge one of the white hoboes while she was in jail at Scottsboro to pretend that he was her brother.

Carter said he had given up hobo life and was now a laborer for the Board of Education in New York.

Patterson on the Stand

Patterson next took the stand. Over and over he denied that he had touched Mrs. Price or Ruby Bates, or that he had even seen any woman on the train. The white hoboes had been throwing stones at him and the "other colored," he explained, and he had fought with them "to make them stop bothering us."

Mr. Hutson, cross-examining the defendant, blustered and stormed about the courtroom, repeating the Negro's answers to his questions with obvious scorn and disbelief in his voice and manner. Sometimes he didn't wait for Patterson to answer one question before he asked another, and he frequently attributed words to the witness that the Negro had not uttered.

At last the local prosecutor fell back upon the record of the original trials at Scottsboro, although Mr. Leibowitz protested that the record was inadmissible on the grounds that the Supreme Court of the United States had declared the whole proceeding illegal because the defendants were not adequately represented there by counsel.

Patterson said he did not remember testifying as the record indicated he had done when he was asked what he saw aboard the freight train on March 25, 1931. According to the transcript from which Mr. Hutson read, the Negro had testified that he saw all but three of the nine Negroes in custody attack the white girls. Later, reading from another part of the same record, Mr. Leibowitz showed that Patterson had testified just as he had today.

Four of Patterson's co-defendants followed him on the witness stand. They were Olin Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Ozie Powell and Andy Wright, Negro boys who have grown to manhood in jail. All denied participating in any attack on the white women.

Hutson Addresses Jury

The State offered no rebuttal, and after a short recess Mr. Hutson began.

It was then that he made his appeal for the protection of womanhood, and he warned the jurors that when they had rendered their verdict and gone home they would have to face their neighbors. His voice rose to a crescendo as he choked back a sob evoked by his own eloquence in lauding the martyrdom of Victoria Price.

"She fights for the rights of womanhood of Alabama," he shouted.

Mr. Watts, a prominent attorney in the home town of Mrs. Price, made a calm and detailed analysis of the evidence submitted, asserting that the story told by Mrs. Price had been refuted by the State's own witnesses "and contradicted by the physical facts in the case." Rape was a crime of secrecy, not one committed in broad daylight in full view of the public highway by a dozen men strangers to each other.

Introducing himself as a "friend and neighbor" from Madison County, Mr. Watts criticized the State for not placing Orville Gilley, an eye-witness of the alleged crime, on the witness stand, and remarked that he could not refrain from wondering why the State had left it for the defense to present medical testimony which was in the State's possession.

He too urged the jurors to weigh the evidence with common sense, and in answer to Mr. Hutson's plea for the protection of womanhood appealed for "protection of the innocent."

"It takes courage to do the right thing in the face of public clamor for the wrong thing, but when justice is not administered fairly, governments disintegrate and there is no protection for any one, man or woman, black or white."

Mr. Knight, who had the last word for the prosecution, summed up briefly and with restraint, confining himself to the evidence and arguing that all the testimony submitted, save that of Patterson himself, tended to bear out the complainant's story.

Judge Charges the Jury

Two hours were consumed by Judge Callahan in charging the jury and court did not recess until 9:30 P.M. The judge dwelt at length on the legal definition of the crime charged, on the differences between direct and circumstantial evidence and on the meaning of such terms as reasonable doubt.

He said that in weighing the testimony of Patterson and Victoria Price, the jurors might regard them as "interested" witnesses and consider that in deciding what weight to give it. Since the complainant was a white woman, he said, they must assume she did not yield willingly to the Negro defendant.

As Judge Callahan continued Patterson's face was glum and he slumped lower and lower in his chair. He perked up a little, however, when the court began reading a score or specific charges, requested by the defense. These emphasized the fact that the defendant was presumed to be innocent until proved guilty and that he must be acquitted if the possibility of his innocence was compatible with reason.

After the reading of almost every one of these requested charges, Judge Callahan expressed a comment of his own such as:

"That's just saying what I said in another way," or "that just means all twelve of you have to agree on a verdict—well, of course you do."

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 19, 2004).

"Scottsboro Boys." Decatur/Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau. http://www.decaturcvb.org/Pages/Press/scotboy.html (accessed on August 19, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law