For the five Scottsboro Boys left in Alabama, they had a new demon with which to contend. Each of the five was convinced that their continued confinement bought the freedom of the others, and they resented it deeply. They struggled with life in hellholes of prisons. Atmore Prison, near Mobile, was a desperate place teeming with poisonous snakes, sadistic guards, and rapacious prisoners. Kilby Prison, near Birmingham, housed Alabama's electric chair; one of Haywood Patterson's jobs was to carry out the bodies of electrocuted inmates. They sodomized or were sodomized; they assaulted or were assaulted. They survived, but barely.
Seven of the nine Scottsboro Boys had been held in jail for over six years without trial by the time jury selection began in the third trial of Clarence Norris on Monday, July 12, 1937. Trying to beat the hundred degree heat, Judge Callahan rushed the trial even more than usual, and by Wednesday morning the prosecution had a death sentence. Andy Wright's trial was next; he got ninety-nine years. On Saturday, July 24 at eleven o'clock, jury returned and gave him seventy-five years. Moments later, Ozie Powell was brought into court and the new prosecutor, Thomas Lawson, announced that the state was dropping rape charges against Powell and that he was pleading guilty to assaulting a deputy. Then came the big news. Lawson announced that all charges were being dropped against the remaining four defendants: Willie Roberson, , , and Roy Wright. He said that after "careful consideration" every prosecutor was "convinced" that Roberson and Montgomery were "not guilty." Wright and Williams, regardless of their guilty or innocence, were twelve and thirteen at the time and, in view of the jail time they had already served, justice required that they also be released. Leibowitz led the four from the jail to an awaiting car, and with an escort of state troopers they were driven to the Tennessee border. Free of Alabama, but not of the label "Scottsboro Boy" or from the wounds inflicted by six years in prison, they went on with their separate lives: to marriage, to alcoholism, to jobs, to fatherhood, to hope, to disillusionment, to disease, or to suicide.
Either through paroles or escapes all of the Scottsboro Boys eventually found their way out of Alabama. Charles Weems was paroled in 1943, Ozie Powell and Clarence Norris in 1946, and , the last to leave Alabama for good (Wright had been paroled earlier, then returned because of a parole violation) in June, 1950. Haywood Patterson managed a dramatic escape in 1948. Patterson and Norris each went on to participate in the writing of books about their lives. Patterson's book, was published in 1950 while he was a fugitive. Shortly after its publication, Patterson was arrested by the FBI, but the Governor G. Mennen Williams of Michigan refused Alabama's extradition request. Norris published his book, , in 1979. Ten years later, on January 23, 1989, the last of the Scottsboro Boys was dead.
In 1938, a pardon for all of the Scottsboro Boys left in Alabama seemed all but assured. was anxious to end the whole Scottsboro episode before he left office, and told Scottsboro Defense Committee head Allan Chalmers that the five would be released after he had his traditional pre-pardon interviews with each in his office. The interviews, however, could hardly have gone worse. First, Haywood Patterson was found to be carrying a knife when he was searched on his way to the interview. Patterson claimed he always carried a knife for protection, but authorities assumed the worst. Second, brain-damaged Ozie Powell refused to answer Graves questions, saying "I don't want to say nothing to you." Third, according to Graves' account, Clarence Norris threatened to kill Haywood Patterson, with whom he had been feuding bitterly, after his release. Finally, none of the Scottsboro Boys admitted any knowledge or guilt concerning a rape aboard the Chattanooga to Memphis freight--a rape that Graves still believed occurred. Graves left office without issuing the pardons.
The story of the Scottsboro Boys lives on through the efforts of artists and scholars. Leadbelly recorded a song, "Scottsboro Boys." Dan T. Carter published his award-winning in 1969. A movie, , was shown on NBC in 1976. ( One inaccuracy in Carter's book was relied on to the movie producer's detriment: Carter reported that Ruby Bates and Victoria Price had died in 1961, when in fact at the time of the movie's release they were both alive and well, and Victoria Price at least was ready to sue for defamation. Her suit was dismissed by a federal appeals court.) published a superb recounting of the Scottsboro tragedy from multiple perspectives, in 1994. At this writing, in October, 1998, a new documentary on the Scottsboro Boys is in production.
The Scottsboro Boys spent the two years between their first trials and the second round, scheduled to begin in March, 1933 in Decatur, in the deplorable conditions of Depression-era Alabama prisons. While on death row at Kilby prison, on the very date originally set for their own executions, they watched as another inmate was carried off to unsoundproofed death chamber adjacent to their cells, then listened to the sounds of his electrocution. Once or twice a week they were allowed to leave their tiny cells, as they were handcuffed and walked a few yards down the hall to a shower. An early visitor found them "terrified, bewildered" like "scared little mice, caught in a trap." They fought, they wrote letters if they could write at all, they thought about girls and life on the outside, they dreamed of their executions. As their trial date approached, they were moved to the Decatur jail, a rat-infested facility that two years earlier had been condemned as "unfit for white prisoners."
The ILD selected two attorneys to represent the Scottsboro Boys in the retrials. The ILD quieted skeptics who saw the organization caring more about the benefits it could derive from the case than the Boys' welfare by asking serve as the lead defense attorney. Leibowitz was a New York criminal attorney who had secured an astonishing record of seventy-seven acquittals and one hung jury in seventy-eight murder trials. Liebowitz was often described as"the next Clarence Darrow." Liebowitz was a mainline Democrat with no connections with or sympathies toward the Communist Party. Joseph Brodsky, the ILD's chief attorney, was selected to assist Leibowitz.
The NAACP, which might have been expected to rush to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, did not. Rape was a politically explosive charge in the South, and the NAACP was concerned about damage to its effectiveness that might result if it turned out some or all of the Boys were guilty. Instead, it was the Communist Party that moved aggressively to make the Scottsboro case their own. The Party saw the case as providing a great recruiting tool among southern blacks and northern liberals. The Communist Party, through its legal arm, the International Labor Defense (ILD), pronounced the case against the Boys a "murderous frame-up" and began efforts, ultimately successful, to be named as their attorneys. The NAACP, a slow-moving bureaucracy, finally came to the realization that the Scottsboro Boys were most likely innocent and that leadership in the case would have large public relations benefits. As a last-ditch effort to beat back the ILD in the battle over representation, NAACP officials persuaded renowned defense attorney to take their case to Alabama. But it was by then too late. The Scottsboro Boys, for better or worse, cast their lots with the Communists who, in the South, were "treated with only slightly more courtesy than a gang of rapists."
At one o'clock on April 8, 1933, the jury was sent out to deliberate the fate of Haywood Patterson after Judge Horton reminded the jury that "You are not trying lawyers; you are not trying state lines." The next day the jury emerged from the jury room laughing, leading some in the defense camp to think that they must have won an acquittal. They were wrong. The jury pronounced Patterson guilty and sentenced him to death. The decision on guilt took only five minutes. The testimony of Bates wasn't even considered. Leibowitz was stunned. Safely back in New York after the trial Leibowitz said of the jury that had just found his client guilty: "If you ever saw those creatures, those bigots whose mouths are slits in their faces, whose eyes popped out at you like frogs, whose chins dripped tobacco juice, bewhiskered and filthy, you would not ask how they could do it." Ruby Bates returned East with Leibowitz, then became the leading lady at ILD-sponsored Scottsboro rallies, where she would beg forgiveness, plead for justice for "The Boys," and join in singing The Internationale.
Attorney General Knight wasted no time in announcing that the state was convinced of the Scottsboro Boys' guilt and would press ahead with prosecutions. At the next trial, Knight promised, there would be corroboration for Price's story. Orville Gilley, the one white boy left on the train when the alleged rapes took place, had agree to testify for the prosecution. The prosecution had one additional ground for optimism. Pressure in the right places had succeeded in getting the new trials transferred out of Judge Horton's courtroom. , a septuagenarian, no nonsense judge, would preside at Haywood Patterson's next trial, scheduled for November, 1933.
Guilty verdicts in the first trial were announced while the second trial was underway. The large crowd outside the courthouse let out a roar of approval that was clearly heard by the second jury inside. When the four trials were over, eight of the nine Scottsboro Boys had been convicted and sentenced to death. A mistrial was declared in the case of twelve-year old Roy Wright, when eleven of the jurors held out for death despite the request of the prosecution for only a life sentence in view of his tender age.