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Scottsboro:  An American Tragedy

A Lesson Plan for Secondary Educators

Created by Michelle Laffranchi, SED 741 2003-2004


Go to Quotes from the Boys             Go to A Chronology               Go to a Map of the Area                   Go to a Picture of the Boys


Subject: Scottsboro Boys


Theme: Freedom is never free!

            States vs. Federal government authority


California Standards:



3.      the effects of the Freedman’s Bureau and the restrictions on the rights and opportunities of freedman, including racial segregation and “Jim Crow” laws

4.      the rise and effects of the Ku Klux Klan

5.      the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution, and their connection to Reconstruction



2.      the international and domestic events, interests, and philosophies that prompted attacks on civil liberties…


Organization and timeline:     (2) days            Day 1 lecture    Day 2 parts of movie


Interdisciplinary component:  The class will look at a map of where the Scottsboro boy’s trials occurred and discuss the geographical significance.  South vs. North


Resources needed: overhead projector, TV and VCR, Scottsboro: An American Tragedy movie, map of the United States, newspaper articles on the case from the time, and Chronology of the case.


Content Knowledge and Skills:

            A basic knowledge of Reconstruction

            Knowledge of “Jim Crow” laws

            Be familiar with The Great Depression and its effects on racial unrest


Introductory “Hook”


Read a list of quotations from participants in the Scottsboro trials titled, “In Their Own Words” to the class.  There will be a picture of the nine boys projected on the overhead, so that the class can see their faces as they hear the accounts.


Lesson Content:  In 1931, Alabama was suffering from major unemployment, which contributed to added conflicts between whites and blacks.


March 25, 1931          Posse stops Southern Railroad train in Paint Rock, Alabama (just outside of Scottsboro, Alabama).  Scottsboro boys are arrested on charges of assault Rape charges are added against all nine boys after accusations are made by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates.


Ruby Bates (17) and Victoria Price (21) were poor and worked in the textile mills.  They were also allegedly prostitutes.


Note: Accusing the black men of rape changed people’s negative view of the women, from being trashy, to pure white southern women, which they were not.


March 26, 1931          200 National Guardsmen were called into protect the prisoners from lynch mobs outside the jail.


March 30, 1931          A grand jury indicts all nine “Scottsboro Boys”


April 7-8, 1931            Clarence Norris and Charlie Weems are tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.


April 8-9, 1931            Haywood Patterson is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.


April 9, 1931               The case against Roy Wright (13) ends in a hung jury when 11 jurors seek a death sentence, and one votes for life imprisonment.


Note:                           All nine boy’s trials lasted a total of 3 days!


June 22, 1931             Executions are stayed pending appeal to Alabama Supreme Court


·  The class will watch the portion of the Scottsboro video that shows the following

appeals and trials.  This will take approximately 1 hour.


·  Each student will be given a copy of a Chronology of the case to follow along as they

watch the video.  They will be asked to choose a character from the video to write notes

on as they watch.




I will show the class a United States map and we will discuss why the location of the trial

(Scottsboro, Alabama) affected the outcome and whether or not they think the outcome

would be different if it was in the North, rather than the South.



How did the citizens of Alabama react to Mr. Leibowitz as the defendant’s attorney? 

They resented the fact that he was a Jew from the North.  They saw it as an attempt by

the North to once again tell the South what to do.


Why did the Communist Party get involved with the case?  They saw this as a way to

gain national recognition and recruit members.  This was the case they were looking for.



Do you think that Ruby Bates was coerced by the Communist Party to recant her original

Testimony, or do you think she was telling the truth when she said the boys raped her?



The class will write (3) diary entries from one of the participant’s point of view.  The

entries will include one entry from the beginning, middle and end of the case.  This could

go up to 15 years after the original Scottsboro trials.  In each diary entry, the students

will be asked to describe how they think that that person might have felt before, during

and after the trial.  Students must include discussions in their journal about the price of



For extra credit, students can write a short biography of one of the 9 Scottsboro boys.


Movie Summary:  This movie begins with the accusations of two white women who

claim they were raped by 9 black boys on a train and ends in their eventual release

from prison.  The video really portrays the hatred the South has for the North and

the racism that existed at the time.




Introductory “Hook”



"I  was scared before, but it wasn't nothing to how I felt now.  I knew if a white woman accused a black man of rape, he was as good as dead."  --Clarence Norris  (Goodman, 5)

"I was sitting in a chair and one of those girls was testifying.  One of the deputy sheriffs leaned over to me and asked if I was going to turn state's evidence, and I said no, because I didn't know anything about this case.  Then the trial stopped awile and the deputy sheriff beckoned to me to come out into another room-- the room back of the place where the judge was sitting-- and I went.  They whipped me and it seemed like they were going to kill me.  All the time they kept saying, "Now will you tell?" and finally it seemed to me like I couldn't stand it no more and I said yes."    --Roy Wright  (NY Times, 3/10/33)

"Now the question in this case is this: Is justice in the case going to be bought and sold in Alabama with Jew money from New York?"  --Prosecutor Wade Wright addressing the jury in Alabama v Patterson (NY Times, 4/8/33)

"There shouldn't be any trial for them damn niggers-- thirty cents worth of rope would do the work and it wouldn't cost the county much." --Decatur lunchroom proprietor (Goodman, 211)

"The whole damnable thing was a frame-up of two irresponsible women."  --Samuel Liebowitz addressing the jury (NY Times, 4/9/33)

Back to the TOP        Go to A Chronology               Go to a Map of the Area                   Go to a Picture of the Boys   



March 25, 1931

Posse stops Southern Railroad train in Paint Rock, Alabama.  Scottsboro boys are arrested on charges of assault.  Rape charges are added against all nine boys after accusations are made by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates.

March 26, 1931

Scottsboro boys are nearly lynched by crowd of over 100 gathered around Scottsboro's jail.

March 30, 1931

Grand jury indicts the nine Scottsboro boys for rape.

April 6, 1931

Trials begin in Scottboro before Judge A. E. Hawkins.

April 7-9,1931

Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams, and Andy Wright are tried and convicted, and sentenced to death.  The trial of Roy Wright ends in a mistrial when some jurors hold out for a death sentence even though the prosecution asked for life imprisonment.

April -Dec., 1931

NAACP and International Labor Defense (ILD) battle for the right to represent the Scottsboro boys.

June 22, 1931

Executions are stayed pending appeal to Alabama Supreme Court.

July 10, 1931

On the date first set for their executions, the Scottsboro boys listen to the execution of Willie Stokes, the first of ten blacks to be executed at the prison over the next ten years.  After hearing gruesome reports of the execution, many of the boys report nightmares or sleepless nights.

January, 1932

NAACP withdraws from case.

January 5, 1932

Ruby Bates, in a letter to a Earl Streetman, denies that she was raped.

March, 1932

Alabama Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-1, affirms the convictions of seven of the boys.  The conviction of Eugene Williams is reversed on the grounds that he was a juvenile under state law in 1931.

May, 1932

The U. S. Supreme Court announces that it will review the Scottsboro cases.

November, 1932

The Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, reverses the convictions of the Scottsboro boys in Powell vs. Alabama.  Grounds for reversal are that Alabama failed to provide adequate assistance of counsel as required by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

January, 1933

Samuel S. Leibowitz, a New York lawyer, is retained by the ILD to defend the Scottsboro boys.

March 27, 1933

Haywood Patterson's second trial begins in Decatur before judge James Horton.

April 9, 1933

Haywood Patterson found guilty by jury and sentenced to death in the electric chair.

April 18, 1933

Judge Horton postpones the trials of the other Scottsboro boys because of dangerously high local tensions.

May 7, 1933

In one of many protests around the nation, thousands march in Washington protesting the Alabama trials.

  June 22, 1933

Judge Horton sets aside Haywood Patterson's conviction and grants a new trial.

October 20, 1933

The Scottsboro cases are removed from Judge Horton's jurisdiction and transferred to Judge William Callahan's court.

Nov.-Dec., 1933

Haywood Patterson and Clarence Norris are tried for rape, convicted, and sentenced to death.

June 12, 1934

Judge Horton, who had faced no opposition in his previous race, is defeated in his bid for re-election.

June, 1934

Alabama Supreme Court affirms the convictions of Haywood and Norris.

October, 1934

Two lawyers are charged with attempting to bribe Victoria Price in order to change her testimony.

January, 1935

The U. S. Supreme Court agrees to review the most recent Scottsboro convictions.

April 1, 1935

The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the convictions of Norris and Patterson because African Americans were excluded from sitting on the juries in their trials. Patterson v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 600 (1935); Norris v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 587 (1935)

December, 1935

The Scottsboro Defense Committee is organized.

January 23, 1936

Haywood Patterson is convicted for a fourth time of rape and is sentenced to 75 years in prison.

January 24, 1936

Ozzie Powell is shot in the head by Sheriff Jay Sandlin while attacking Deputy Sheriff Edgar Blalock.

December, 1936

Thomas Knight meets with Samuel Liebowitz in New York to discuss a possible compromise.

June 14, 1937

Conviction of Haywood Patterson is upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court.

July,  1937

Clarence Norris is convicted of rape and sentenced to death. Andy Wright is convicted and sentenced to 99 years for rape. Charlie Weems is convicted and sentenced to 75 years.  Ozzie Powell pleads guilty to assaulting the sheriff and is sentenced to 20 years.

July 24, 1937

Roy Wright, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery and Willie Roberson were released after all charges were dropped against them.

October 26, 1937

The U.S. Supreme Court declines to review the Patterson and Norris convictions.

June, 1938

Alabama Supreme Court upholds the death sentence for Clarence Norris.

July 5, 1938

Clarence Norris's death sentence is reduced to life in prison by Governor Graves.

August, 1938

Alabama Pardon Board declines to pardon Patterson and Powell.

October, 1938

Pardon Board denies the pardon applications of Norris, Weems, and Roy Wright.

October, 1938

Governor Graves interviews Scottsboro boys.

November, 1938

Governor Graves denies all pardon applications.

September, 1943

Charlie Weems is paroled.

January, 1944

Norris and Andy Wright are paroled.

September, 1944

Norris and Wright leave Montgomery in  violation of their paroles.

October, 1944

Norris is returned to prison.

June, 1946

Ozzie Powell is paroled.

September, 1946

Norris, paroled again, leaves Alabama.

October, 1946

Andy Wright is returned to Kilby prison

July, 1948

Haywood Patterson escapes from prison.

June, 1950

Andy Wright is paroled.  FBI arrests Patterson, but Michigan's governor refuses extradition to Alabama.

December, 1950

Patterson is involved in a barroom fight resulting in the death of another man.  Haywood is charged with murder.

September, 1951

Patterson is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 6 to 15 years. He dies of cancer less than a year later.

October, 1976

Clarence Norris is pardoned by Alabama Governor George Wallace.

July, 1977

Victoria Price's suit against NBC for its movie "Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys," which she claimed defamed her and invaded her privacy, is dismissed. Price dies five years later.

Jan. 23, 1989

Clarence Norris, the last surviving Scottsboro boy, dies at age 76.

Back to the TOP        Go to Quotes from the Boys             Go to a Map of the Area                   Go to a Picture of the Boys




Back to the TOP        Go to Quotes from the Boys             Go to A Chronology               Go to a Picture of the Boys





The “Scottsboro Boys” Trials



Back to the TOP        Go to Quotes from the Boys             Go to A Chronology               Go to a Map of the Area



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