Monday
Oct012018

Don’t they teach about the Scottsboro Boys case?

Is Jeff Van Drew a racist?  Does he not understand that every lynching in America involving a white woman started with an unquestioning belief in the accuser or, if he prefers, the “survivor”.   There was a lot of “solidarity” going around then.

Are these two young women so much different from the two who, in 1931, accused nine Black men of raping them?  They too were absolutely certain.

The case was investigated and brought to trial.  Based simply on the testimony of the women, all but one of the accused was convicted of rape and sentenced to death.  The last was spared simply because of his age (he was 12).  Medical evidence suggested that the nine had not raped the women, but that was dismissed in light of their testimony, which was considered very credible.

The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which affirmed seven of the eight convictions (in the eighth case, granting a 13 year-old a new trial).  The dissenting judge questioned the impartiality of the process.  The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial and led to a landmark decision on the conduct of trials.

The case was returned for trial to a lower court, with a change of venue.  During the retrials, one of the alleged victims (who would today be called a “survivor”) admitted to fabricating the rape story and testified that none of the accused touched either woman.  The other woman continued to claim that she was 100% absolutely certain that she had been raped by the men. 

At the new trial, the jury found that second woman to be a compelling witness and adopting the motto “believe women” they found the Black men guilty of rape once again.  Fortunately, the trial judge set aside that verdict and ordered yet another trial.  After a public outcry, that judge was replaced by another judge who tended to be more favorable to the prosecution.  For a third time, the jury believed the now lone “survivor” – adopting the iron-clad assertion to “believe women” – and returned a guilty verdict against the Black men.

The case was sent back to the United States Supreme Court on appeal and the Court again ordered retrials.  The state finally dropped charges against four of the nine accused.  Sentences for those remaining ranged from 75 years imprisonment to death.  All but two served prison sentences.  One was shot while being escorted to prison by a Sheriff’s deputy.  Two escaped, were captured, and then sent back to prison.  Clarence Norris, the oldest of the accused (and the only one sentenced to death in the final trial) jumped parole in 1946 and went into hiding.  He was found in 1976 and given a pardon by the Governor.  At that point the case had been thoroughly examined and shown to be a farce.

The last of those accused died in 1989.  On November 21, 2013, after an exhaustive review process, the state parole board formally cleared their names.  They were innocent, but had spent their lives under the shadow of a gross accusation.

What this sad lesson in our history should teach us is that an unproven accusation should not be treated as “fact” and that an accusation alone should not be the basis of a criminal conviction.  It should also teach us that blanket assertions about truth or guilt based upon gender or race (or anything else), are the beginnings of a lynch mob and should be avoided.

Do you get that, Senator Van Drew?  Or are you down with a fashionable lynch mob?

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