THE SCOTTSBORO CASE (1931)
[In 1931, in
A few days after the arrest the defendants were returned to
Scottsboro, indicted on charges of rape, and in the minimum time allowed under
the law were placed on trial. National Guardsmen with drawn bayonets, tear-gas
bombs, and machine guns made the antiquated
Victoria Price was put on the stand. Jauntily she told in great detail, obviously loving every minute of the rapt attention accorded her, of the six mythical criminal assaults she had undergone. Ruby Bate: followed her on the stand. Less of an extrovert and obviously more reluctant to tell the lies she had been coached to tell, she however corroborated sufficiently the lurid recital of the flamboyant Victoria Price to insure the sentencing to death of eight of the defendants and to life imprisonment of the ninth. The prosecutor asked only for life imprisonment for him because he had “celebrated” his fourteenth birthday in jail as he awaited trial.
It is certain that convictions were inevitable in that atmosphere. But if there had been any slightest chance of a fair trial, that chance went glimmering when Judge Hawkins revealed that he had received a telegram from a Communist organization in New York City, the International Labor Defense, asserting that he as presiding judge would be held personally responsible unless the nine defendants were immediately released....
The defendants and their parents and guardians together presented one of the most damning indications of Southern race prejudice I have ever seen--all of them had been given little education and had been ground by poverty and bigotry all their lives. It was an exciting new experience for them to be addressed as “Mister” or “Missus” and to be treated by white people as human beings on a plane of equality which they had never known before from the “good, white, hundred per cent Americans” of their native South.
When, by various means, the defendants and their parents and guardians became convinced that the ILD was the organization which they wished to defend them, there was no alternative left except for the NAACP to withdraw from the case, making public its reasons for so doing, with an itemized accounting of moneys raised and expended in the case.
In control of the case, the Communists proceeded to
publicize and agitate it in every part of the world. Public meetings of the NAACP
were particularly the target of the campaign. A favorite device was to announce
in such a meeting that one of the Scottsboro mothers was present and demanded
the right to speak. If permission was granted, a Communist would make a lengthy
introduction expounding the merits of Communism. If permission were denied, at
a prearranged signal Communists in the audience or their sympathizers would
join in a shout demanding that the mother be heard. There were only five
living “mothers” of the nine defendants, but many more than five “mothers” were
produced in various parts of the country at public gatherings. In one instance
a colored woman presented as a Scottsboro mother had lived for more than twenty
years in the Northern city in which she spoke. All this apparently was based
upon strategy at that time being followed by Communists throughout the world,
namely, to attempt to organize with greatest vigor among the most exploited
and oppressed group in each “capitalist” country as the most fertile soil for
revolutionary propaganda. It will be remembered that the Scottsboro case came
two years after the stock market collapse of 1929 and as