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Scottsboro Boys

Posted: December 10, 2013 12:13 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.

The state of Alabama recently took a step towards righting one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice ever perpetrated in this country, issuing posthumous pardons to three members of the “Scottsboro Boys,” who were wrongly accused in 1931 of raping two white women on a train. Eight of the nine charged were swiftly convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury, with a mistrial being declared for the ninth, 13-year-old Roy Wright.

A lengthy legal battle ensured, and the case has been called one of the major precursors to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The defendants served varying prison sentences but all were eventually paroled, pardoned or freed. The last defendant died in 1989. The judicial rulings were varied and complicated, but activists have long pushed for all of them to be pardoned. Some of them were ineligible for pardons because their convictions had been overturned in ensuing years.

No matter the detailed legal maneuvering, Alabama’s move was long overdue, and the fact that their lives were ruined will not change. Though it is a small measure, one Alabama judge commented, “It’s largely … symbolic, but it’s better late than never.” It is also a reminder of all the racial injustices which were once so common not only in the South, but across the nation.

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