Segments in this Video

Scottsboro - An American Tragedy: Introduction (02:20)


This segment orients viewers to the topics of race, poverty, crime, and justice in Scottsboro.

Southern Rail Freight Train (02:41)

On March 25, 1931, a confrontation between black and white men occurred on a train. In Paint Rock, Alabama, a posse searched the train for a "gang" of black men. They encountered two disheveled white women who claimed they were raped by black men.

Scottsboro: Nine Prisoners (04:16)

Paint Rock residents recall the posse removing the black men, including Clarence Norris from the train. The Scottsboro sheriff's sons recall the prisoners' arrival and a mob forming outside the jail. Norris describes the encounters.

Scottsboro: Two "Victims" (02:34)

Alabama was in a state of calamity. Experts discuss the backgrounds of Ruby Bates and Victoria Price.

Example in Alabama (02:57)

On April 6, 1931, thousands gathered in Scottsboro Square; 200 National Guardsmen surrounded the courthouse. Perceived sexual attitudes of black men struck fear in southern whites. Anti-lynching forces hoped to prove the rule of law would prevail.

Scottsboro Trials (03:51)

Hear portions of Price's testimony. A real estate attorney represented the defendants; Norris recalls the atmosphere. The boys were convicted of rape and sent to Kilby Prison; they rioted their first night.

Uncompleted Revolution (03:55)

By 1931, the Communist Party was opportunistic and organized, and focused on the plight of southern blacks. They launched demonstrations on behalf of the Scottsboro defendants. The NAACP was eager to defend the young men.

Defending the Scottsboro Boys (02:34)

Lawyers from the International Labor Defense visited the Scottsboro defendants in Kilby Prison. The group secured the boys' defense and brought their plight to the attention of the world.

Appealing the Scottsboro Verdict (03:50)

In 1932, Supreme Court Justices concluded that the trial violated the defendants' rights to legal due process. Samuel L. Leibowitz would represent the defendants at their retrial.

Scottsboro Defandants' 2nd Trial (02:53)

Spectators filled the courtroom in April, 1933; Patterson was the first to stand trial. Attorney General Thomas Knight was the prosecuting attorney and Chief Judge James Horton presided over the case; all of the jury members were white.

Witness Testimony (04:27)

Bates disappeared before the trial, making Price's testimony vital to the case. Price identifies Patterson as one of her rapists; Leibowitz cross examines.

Cross Examination of Victoria Price (03:47)

Leibowitz argued that the semen found during the examination of Price and Bates was from consensual sex. He questioned Price about her location the night before and her train riding habits.

Attack on Southern Womanhood? (03:36)

Many southerners found Leibowitz's cross examination of Price brutal. The trial became a replay of the North versus the South; Leibowitz and his team became targets.

Defense Witnesses (02:09)

Dr. R.R. Bridges testified about the mental and physical condition of Price and Bates, and the condition of the semen. Lester Carter testified that he and a friend were with the women the night before the train ride.

Defendant and Victim Testimony (03:58)

Each defendant denied raping Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. Bates testified that she agreed to support Price's story so they wouldn't go to jail. Knight's cross examination hinted that Bates was "bought" by the Communists.

Closing Arguments (01:19)

Co-prosecutor Wade Wright ridiculed Bates, Carter, and the North in his argument. Leibowitz called Wright's summation a "hangman's speech" and called Price's testimony a contemptible lie.

Trial Verdict (03:28)

The jury found Haywood Patterson guilty and sentenced him to death. To southerners, Leibowitz was a complete outsider. Leibowitz vented his anger and it appeared in newspapers in the north and south; Grover Hall lashed back.

Overturning the Verdict (04:36)

Leibowitz appeared at Scottsboro rallies in Harlem and prepared a motion for a new trial. Under oppositional pressure, Judge Horton agreed to a new trial.

Unified Movement (02:19)

Whites and blacks marched together in support of the Scottsboro defendants. The Communist Party sponsored a speaking tour for the defendants' mothers; Ruby Bates often accompanied them.

Defendants' 3rd Trial (02:24)

The state of Alabama announced it would retry the Scottsboro defendants; Jude William Callahan would preside. Callahan frustrated Leibowitz's defense. Patterson was sentenced to death for the third time; Norris' trial had the same result.

Inside Kilby Prison (02:10)

International notoriety made life difficult for the Scottsboro defendants; violence encompassed the young men. Norris heard the last words of every inmate executed.

Scottsboro Case Appealed (02:22)

Leibowitz announces his appeals. In February 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Norris vs. Alabama. It ruled that Alabama deliberately excluded blacks from their juries and overturned the guilty verdicts.

Defendants’ 4th Trial (02:53)

Grover Hall, once a defender of the Scottsboro verdicts, urged a compromise. The state agreed if Leibowitz left the case. They convicted five men and dropped charges against Eugene Williams, Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, and Roy Wright.

Freed Defendants (04:47)

Eugene Williams, Willie Roberson, Olen Montgomery, and Roy Wright arrived in New York in 1937. Supporters pushed for the release of the other five defendants. In 1943, the parole board released Wheems, Wright, Norris, and Powell; Patterson remained in the prison system until he escaped in 1948.

Scottsboro Boys (03:39)

Residents reflect on an "accident of geography." Learn the fates of Judge Horton, Leibowitz, Price, and the Scottsboro defendants.

Clarence Norris (02:32)

Norris made a life for himself and wanted a full pardon. Gov. Wallace granted the pardon in 1976.

Credits: Scottsboro - An American Tragedy (01:27)

Credits: Scottsboro - An American Tragedy

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Scottsboro - An American Tragedy

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In 1931, two white women stepped from a box car in Paint Rock, Alabama to make a shocking accusation: they had been raped by nine black teenagers on the train. So began one of the most significant legal fights of the twentieth century. The trial of the nine falsely accused teens would draw North and South into their sharpest conflict since the Civil War, yield two momentous Supreme Court decisions and give birth to the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to its historical significance, the Scottsboro story is a riveting drama about the struggles of nine innocent young men for their lives and a cautionary tale about using human beings as fodder for political causes. Distributed by PBS Distribution.

Length: 86 minutes

Item#: BVL93457

Copyright date: ©2001

Closed Captioned

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