Collaborative Work Yields Progress on Pardons for Scottsboro Boys

Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, has asked Gov. Robert Bentley to clear the names of eight of the nine defendants known as the Scottsboro boys, who were wrongly convicted of raping two white women in 1931. Washington’s plea has garnered significant support from professors, lawyers, and legislators and is the bi-product of work from of a two-year community-based research project with students and faculty in the College.

The project involved doing historical research for the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center which resulted in the creation of a website for the museum and publishing a guide to the Scottsboro Boys Historic Route. Funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Ford Foundation, the project was a collaboration between New College, the Department of American Studies, and the Department of History.

The increased attention to the museum has allowed Washington to take on the cause of these defendants in a significant way. Only one of the Scottsboro Boys, Clarence Norris, was pardoned before his death.

Washington said she believes the state needs to set the record straight for the other defendants, even though charges were ultimately dropped against some of them while they were alive. “I feel like this is the closure,” she said.

In her letter to the governor, Washington says, “A resolution of pardon will provide a chance to affirm our mutual interests in supporting justice and equality in twenty-first century Alabama,” the letter says. “The resolution does not change the past, but it can help shape the future.”

In addition to university supporters, some of Alabama’s prominent criminal defense lawyers are also joining the effort to get official vindication for the remaining Scottsboro Boys, and the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association has passed a resolution supporting the effort.

In recent months, Washington decided to resurrect the effort, and hopes the support of so many can bring about a resolution to the highly visible case.

“I think it will shine a light on Alabama that what was done wrong, there’s hope that it can be corrected,” she said. “This is the time now to make it right.”

The collaboration with Washington was initiated by New College professors James C. Hall and Ellen Spears, and was recognized by the University of Alabama Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) with an Excellence in Community Engagement Award.

The research effort also received support from the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, and from faculty and students at Auburn University.