Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Years later, Scottsboro Boys to be pardoned

This Monday, a bill passed by the Alabama Legislature in April, which would allow the Scottsboro Boys to be pardoned posthumously, took effect. While most of the Scottsboro Boys – nine young men who were falsely convicted of rape by an all-white jury in 1931 – have not been officially pardoned, a separate resolution has already exonerated them of the crime. Professors and students at The University of Alabama have worked over the past year with the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center to get the bills passed and to correct the 80-year-old ruling.

Although the charges against all of the boys involved were eventually dismissed, only one, Clarence Norris, was pardoned during his lifetime. Sheila Washington, founder and director of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, said Norris wished he could have seen the other accused boys receive a pardon as well.

“Clarence Norris made the statement when he came back to Alabama to get his pardon that he wished the other eight boys were alive to receive theirs,” Washington said.

Along with Washington, student and faculty members have been working in conjunction with the Scottsboro Boys Museum to get the boys pardoned posthumously.

“They have been just wonderful all along,” Washington said about the University’s involvement.

Washington pointed to Ellen Spears, a professor in New College, and John Miller, assistant director of New College, as the key UA faculty members who assisted in the process. Washington said Spears provided some of the research necessary to drafting the bills and preparing pardon applications while Miller worked with the Alabama Legislature to prepare the language of the bill.

“We needed to know things like what was the exact status of all of the cases,” Spears said. “Each individual defendant had some particularities to their situation, so we supplied the information that helped clarify some of that.”

“I came into this process a little over a year ago,” Miller said. “There was not, at that point, an established mechanism to granting a pardon to a deceased person.”

Along with faculty members, students provided research on the Scottsboro Boys’ case for the pardon process.

“[Spears] sent students out to review the case, to go [to] each place that happened, from when they got on the train in Chattanooga, Tenn., to where it stopped in Paint Rock,” Washington said. The students later helped to create a brochure about the historic trail of the Scottsboro Boys’ train from their research, Spears said.

Washington and Spears credited Tom Reidy, who was a graduate student with UA department of history at the time, with writing the article for Alabama Heritage magazine that highlighted the need for the Scottsboro Boys’ pardon.

“I give Tom Reidy credit for writing an article in Alabama Heritage magazine last year,” Washington said. “That’s what started the snowball of wanting to get the Scottsboro Boys pardoned.”

Spears said working with the Scottsboro Boys Museum provided opportunities for students to be a part of a historic case.

“It’s been a very important experience for the students and faculty and staff who’ve been involved in this,” Spears said. “We feel that it’s been a privilege to have played a small part in helping to provide the research and to bring this matter to light.”

While the biggest legal obstacles have already been cleared, the Scottsboro Boys have not yet been officially pardoned. In order for that to happen, local officials will have to petition the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board.

“The local jurisdiction has to put forward the petition,” Spears said. “Some of the judges in Morgan County and Jackson County, where Scottsboro is located, have been interested in following this through. I’ve been working with them to make sure that all the information that’s necessary is available.”

Washington is hopeful that, once they receive the necessary paperwork, the parole board will pardon the Scottsboro Boys quickly.

“They worked so closely with us. They’re just waiting for the information to get to them,” Washington said.

Miller said the process has been slowed down somewhat by summer leave and a busy legal system.

“It’s the middle of summer, and everyone who has looked at this said that this is the right direction to be headed in but that there are too many people out of town for summer vacation to proceed with it at this point,” Miller said. “The Alabama judiciary is, unfortunately, not as well-funded as it might be, and as a consequence, the folks who work in the judicial system in Alabama have a lot that they’re responsible for.”

While there are still a few obstacles to overcome, the prospect of the Scottsboro Boys’ pardon looks hopeful. With the path to a pardon clearer than it has ever been, those involved in the process are planning more ways to commemorate the story of the nine boys.

Spears said a Scottsboro Boys photo exhibit will come to the University in January and Februrary 2014. The museum is also working with different organizations on a Scottsboro Boys digitization project, which would digitize some of the letters written to Alabama governors about the case in the 1930s. Washington also hopes to find the graves of all nine of the Scottsboro Boys and place a historical marker on each.

“Justice came 82 years later, but it came,” Washington said.

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