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Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial

by James A. Miller

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In 1931, nine black youths were charged with raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama. Despite meager and contradictory evidence, all nine were found guilty and eight of the defendants were sentenced to death--making Scottsboro one of the worst travesties of justice to take place in the post-Reconstruction South. Remembering Scottsboro explores how this case has embedded itself into the fabric of American memory and become a lens for perceptions of race, class, sexual politics, and justice. James Miller draws upon the archives of the Communist International and NAACP, contemporary journalistic accounts, as well as poetry, drama, fiction, and film, to document the impact of Scottsboro on American culture. The book reveals how the Communist Party, NAACP, and media shaped early images of Scottsboro; looks at how the case influenced authors including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Harper Lee; shows how politicians and Hollywood filmmakers invoked the case in the ensuing decades; and examines the defiant, sensitive, and savvy correspondence of Haywood Patterson--one of the accused, who fled the Alabama justice system. Miller considers how Scottsboro persists as a point of reference in contemporary American life and suggests that the Civil Rights movement begins much earlier than the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Remembering Scottsboro demonstrates how one compelling, provocative, and tragic case still haunts the American racial imagination.… (more)
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If you were alive at any time between March 25, 1931 and June 8, 1950, you lived, willy-nilly, in a Scottsboro world. The air you breathed was affected; the speech you heard; the newspaper you read; your political and international outlook, no matter where you sojourned, on the so-called civilized earth. The present tensions between East and West owe much of their early growth to the gigantic morality drama which did one-night stands around the globe--in which American democracy was depicted as the hypocritical Ogre of Evil, and Somebody Else as Helper of Justice--in foundation of the pleas for financial help "to save the Scottsboro boys."

--John Lovell, "Review of Allan K. Chalmers's They Shall Be Free
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys. . . . .

--Allen Ginsberg, "America"
Dedication
To my parents Elease Jones Miller (1916-1982) & John Wesley Miller (1918-1974)
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Had Ida B. Wells-Barnett--the fearless and uncompromising "crusader for justice," who had almost single-handedly launched the campaign against lynching in the late-nineteenth-century United States--been in her prime, she undoubtedly would have sprung into action as soon as the Scottsboro case broke.
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In 1931, nine black youths were charged with raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama. Despite meager and contradictory evidence, all nine were found guilty and eight of the defendants were sentenced to death--making Scottsboro one of the worst travesties of justice to take place in the post-Reconstruction South. Remembering Scottsboro explores how this case has embedded itself into the fabric of American memory and become a lens for perceptions of race, class, sexual politics, and justice. James Miller draws upon the archives of the Communist International and NAACP, contemporary journalistic accounts, as well as poetry, drama, fiction, and film, to document the impact of Scottsboro on American culture. The book reveals how the Communist Party, NAACP, and media shaped early images of Scottsboro; looks at how the case influenced authors including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Harper Lee; shows how politicians and Hollywood filmmakers invoked the case in the ensuing decades; and examines the defiant, sensitive, and savvy correspondence of Haywood Patterson--one of the accused, who fled the Alabama justice system. Miller considers how Scottsboro persists as a point of reference in contemporary American life and suggests that the Civil Rights movement begins much earlier than the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Remembering Scottsboro demonstrates how one compelling, provocative, and tragic case still haunts the American racial imagination.

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