MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Although the Alabama legislature has cleared the way for posthumous pardons of the Scottsboro Boys, much work — from legal documents to public hearings — remains before the names of the nine black teenagers wrongly convicted more than 80 years ago are officially cleared.
The Scottsboro Boys were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women on a train in Alabama in 1931. All but the youngest were sentenced to death, although one of the women recanted her story. All eventually got out of prison. Only one received a pardon before he died.
The case became a symbol of the tragedies wrought by racial injustice. It inspired songs, books, films, a Broadway musical and a museum. The Scottsboro Boys’ appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court decisions that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries.
Last month, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed a measure to allow posthumous pardons in the case. But before they can be issued, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles must receive applications from a circuit judge or district attorney in one of the counties where the original trials occurred. Then the board must hold a public hearing and vote to grant the pardons, Assistant Executive Director Eddie Cook Jr. said. “No one has sent in anything yet,” he said.
Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in northeast Alabama, said that will happen soon. When she started a campaign for pardons in the case, she discovered state law did not permit them for dead defendants. She worked with Republican state Sen. Arthur Orr to get the bill passed.
Washington said she will have help from researchers at the University of Alabama in compiling the information needed for the applications.