Seventy-eight years after the Jackson County trial of nine black men accused of raping two white women caught the world's attention, officials Monday dedicated a museum they say shows how far the civil rights movement has come. The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center officially opened with a dedication ceremony, coinciding with the first day of Black History Month. The museum is located at Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church, the oldest standing African American church in Jackson County dating to 1878.
Featured speaker Lecia J. Brooks, the director of Montgomery's Civil Rights Museum and an employee of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it takes a strong, courageous community to not hide the past. Brooks said the stories of the nine boys, Judge Horton and so many others will now have a place to be told. Shelia Washington, Jackson County Multi-Cultural Heritage Foundation Executive Committee member, has spent the last 17 years working on bringing honor to the case of nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women while on a train traveling through Jackson County.
Kathy Horton Garrett, granddaughter of Judge James E. Horton, who presided over the re-trial of the nine men in Decatur in 1933, spoke of the convictions of her grandfather. Garrett, who was 17 when Horton died in 1973, said she really didn't get a chance to discuss the case with her grandfather but learned from the overwhelming number of letters he had received from around the world what an extraordinary man he was. About a year after all nine men were convicted in a Jackson County courtroom, with eight getting the death sentence and the ninth life in prison, Horton ordered a new trial for all nine because insufficient evidence was presented at the first trial.
History of The Scottsboro Boys
On March 25, 1931, a skirmish between a group of black boys, and a group of white boys broke out on a Southern Railroad freight train. The train stopped in Paint Rock, Alabama, and the nine black boys were arrested on charges of assault. Two girls dressed in boys clothing, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, were found hiding on the freight train as well. They were all taken to Scottsboro, Alabama, the Jackson County seat. The two girls agreed to testify against the boys on a rape charge. The men were sentenced to death, despite the fact that one of the girls later denied being raped. They were all eventually paroled, freed or pardoned, some after serving years of a prison sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the verdicts under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. The court ruled that the right of the defendant's to have competent legal counsel had been denied in the Scottsboro trials and ordered new trials for each of the accused.
However, they will forever be known simply as "The Scottsboro Boys." Their names were Charles Weems, Clarence Norris, Andy Wright, Ozie Powell, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, Willie Roberson, Roy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center memorializes the struggles of a determined people to overcome the destructive, evil force of racism. It celebrates the positive actions of those of all colors, creeds and origins who have taken a stand against the evil tyranny of racial oppression. It stands as testimony of how faith and Christian values may "move mountains" and change lives for the betterment of our community through education.
Visit the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center and learn the lessons of the history of the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement in the event our society calls, "The Scottsboro Boys Trials." Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church is located at 428 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, Alabama. Their hours of operation starting in March are the 2nd and 3rd Saturdays of the month from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm. They will also open by special appointment. For an appointment call 256-244-1310.
Portions of this article were taken from The Huntsville Times, David Brewer - Times Staff Writer; The Daily Sentinel, DeWayne Patterson - Writer; and Scottsboro Stories Blog, Garry Morgan.
For more information please visit www.scottsborostories.blogspot.com.