The Scottsboro Case: A Timeline

Scottsboro Boys
From left to right, the accused are: Clarence Norris, Olen Montgomery, Andy Wright, Willie Roberson, Ozie Powell, Eugene Williams, Charlie Weems, Roy Wright, and Haywood Patterson. Bettman/Getty Images

In March of 1931, nine young African-American men were accused of raping two white women on a train. The African-American men ranged in age from thirteen to nineteen. Each young man was tried, convicted and sentenced in a matter of days.

African-American newspapers published news accounts and editorials of the events of the case. Civil rights organizations followed suit, raising money and providing defense for these young men.

However, it would take several years for these young men's cases to be overturned.

1931

March 25: A group of young African-American and white men engage in a scuffle while riding a freight train. The train is stopped in Paint Rock, Ala and nine African-American teens are arrested for assault. Soon after, two white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, charge the young men with rape. The nine young men are taken to Scottsboro, Ala. Both Price and Bates are examined by doctors. By the evening, the local newspaper, Jackson County Sentinel calls the rape a "revolting crime."

March 30: The nine "Scottsboro Boys" are indicted by a grand jury.

April 6 - 7: Clarence Norris and Charlie Weems, were placed on trial, convicted and given the death sentence.

April 7 - 8: Haywood Patterson meets the same sentence as Norris and Weems.

April 8 - 9: Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Andy Wright are also tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

April 9: 13-year-old Roy Wright is also tried. However, his trial ends with a hung jury as 11 jurors want the death sentence and one votes for life in imprisonment.

April through December: Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as well as the International Labor Defense (ILD) are astonished by the age of the defendants, length of thier trails, and sentences received.

These organizations provide support to the nine young men and thier families. The NAACP and IDL also raise money to for appeals.

June 22: Pending an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, the executions of the nine defendants is stayed.

1932

January 5: A letter written from Bates to her boyfriend is uncovered. In the letter, Bates admits she was not raped.

January: The NAACP withdraws from the case after the Scottsboro Boys decide to let the ILD handle their case.

March 24: The Alabama Supreme Court upholds the convictions of seven defendants in a vote of 6-1. Williams is granted a new trial because he was considered a minor when he was originally convicted.

May 27: The United States Supreme Court decides to hear the case.

November 7: In the case of Powell v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendants were denied the right to counsel. This denial was considered a violation of their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The cases are sent to the lower court.

1933

January: Noted attorney Samuel Leibowitz takes the case for the IDL.

March 27: Patterson's second trial begins in Decatur, Ala before Judge James Horton.

April 6: Bates comes forward as a witness for the defense.

She denies being raped and further testifies that she was with Price for the duration of the train ride. During the trial, Dr. Bridges says that Price showed very little physical signs of rape.

April 9: Patterson is found guilty during his second trial. He is sentenced to death by electrocution.

April 18: Judge Horton suspends Patterson's death sentence after a motion for a new trial. Horton also postpones the trials of the eight other defendants as racial tensions are high in town.

June 22: Patterson's conviction is set aside by Judge Horton. He is granted a new trial.

October 20: The cases of the nine defendants are moved from Horton's court to Judge William Callahan.

November 20: The cases of the youngest defendants, Roy Wright and Eugene Williams, are moved to Juvenile Court. The other seven defendants appear in Callahan's courtroom.

November to December: Patterson and Norris' cases both end in the death penalty. During both cases, Callahan's bias is revealed through his omissions—he does not explain to Patterson's jury how to deliver a not guilty verdit and also does not ask for the mercy of God upon Norris' soul during his sentencing.

1934

June 12: In his bid for re-election, Horton is defeated.

June 28: In a defense motion for new trials, Leibowitz argues that qualified African-Americans were kept off jury rolls. He also argues that names added on the current rolls were forged. The Alabama Supreme Court denies the defense motion for new trials.

October 1: Lawyers associated with ILD are caught with $1500 bribe that was to be given to Victoria Price.

1935

February 15: Leibowitz appears before the Supreme Court of the United States, describing the lack of African-American presence on juries in Jackson County. He also shows the Supreme Court justices the jury rolls with forged names.

April 1: In the case of Norris v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court decides that the exclusion of African-Americans on jury rolls did not protect African-American defendants of their rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The case is overturned and sent to a lower court. However, Patterson's case is not included in the argument because of filing date technicalities. The Supreme Court suggest that lower courts review Patterson's case.

December: The defense team is reorganized. The Scottsboro Defense Committee(SDC) is established with Allan Knight Chalmers as chairman.

Local attorney, Claren Watts serves as co-counsel.

1936

January 23: Patterson is retried. He is found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison. This sentence was a negotiation between the foreman and the rest of the jury.

January 24: Ozie Powell pulls a knife and slashes a police official's throat while being transported to Birmingham Jail. Another police official shoots Powell in the head. Both the police official and Powell survive.

December: Lieutenant Governor Thomas Knight, the prosecuting attorney for the case, meets with Leibowitz in New York to come to a compromise.

1937

May: Thomas Knight, a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, dies.

June 14: Patterson's conviction is upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court.

July 12 - 16: Norris is sentenced to death during his third trial. As a result of the pressure of the case, Watts becomes sick, causing Leibowitz to steer the defense.

July 20 - 21: Andy Wright's is convicted and sentenced to 99 years.

July 22 - 23: Charley Weems is convicted and sentenced to 75 years.

July 23 - 24: Ozie Powell's rape charges are dropped. He pleads guilty to assaulting a police official and is sentenced to 20 years.

July 24: The rape charges against Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright are dropped.

October 26: The United States Supreme Court decides not to hear the appeal of Patterson.

December 21: Bibb Graves, the governor of Alabama, meets with Chalmers to discuss clemency to the five convicted defendants.

1938

June: The sentences given to Norris, Andy Wright and Weems are affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court.

July: Norris' death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment by Governor Graves.

August: A denial of parole is recommended for Patterson and Powell by an Alabama parole board.

October: A denial of parole is also recommended for Norris, Weems, and Andy Wright.

October 29: Graves meets with the convicted defendants to consider parole.

November 15: The pardon applications of all five defendants is denied by Graves.

November 17: Weems is released on parole.

1944

January: Andy Wright and Clarence Norris are released on parole.

September: Wright and Norris leave Alabama. This is considered a violation of their parole. Norris returns to jail in October 1944 and Wright in October 1946.

1946

June: Ozie Powell is released from prison on parole.

September: Norris receives parole.

1948

July: Patterson escapes from prison and travels to Detroit.

1950

June 9: Andy Wright is released on parole and finds a job in New York.

June: Patterson is caught and arrested by the FBI in Detroit. However, G. Mennen Williams, governor of Michigan does not extradite Patterson to Alabama. Alabama does not continue its attempts to return Patterson to prison.

December: Patterson is charged with murder after a fight in a bar.

1951

September: Patterson is sentenced to six to fifteen years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.

1952

August: Patterson dies of cancer while serving time in prison.

1959

August: Roy Wright dies

1976

October: George Wallace, governor of Alabama, pardons Clarence Norris.

1977

July 12: Victoria Price sues NBC for defamation and invasion of privacy after its broadcast of Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys airs. Her claim, however, is dismissed.

1989

January 23: Clarence Norris dies. He is the last surviving Scottsboro Boys.