March 25th: In the midst of the Great Depression, nine black boys hop the Southern Railway line from Chattanooga to Memphis:

  • Olen Montgomery (age 17)
  • Clarence Norris (age 19)
  • Haywood Patterson (age 18)
  • Ozie Powell (age 16)
  • Willie Roberson (age 16)
  • Charlie Weems (age 16)
  • Eugene Williams (age 13)
  • Brothers Andy (age 19) and Roy Wright (age 13)

Also “hoboing” on the train are several white boys and two white girls – Victoria Price and Ruby Bates.

After a fight breaks out between the white and black boys on the train, several of the white boys are forced off the train in Stevenson, Alabama, where the county sheriff is alerted. An armed mob of white men stop the Southern Railway, and the nine black boys are arrested for assault and attempted murder. Victoria Price and Ruby Bates accuse all nine black boys of rape.

March 26th: As news of the crime spreads through the country, the allegations stir up a lynch mob that gathers outside the Scottsboro jail.

March 30th: An all-white grand jury indicts the newly-christened “Scottsboro boys” of rape. None of the boys are allowed to contact friends or family, and none are given the opportunity to consult with an attorney. All nine plead “not guilty.”

April 6th: The trial begins, as a crowd of thousands gather outside Court House Square.

April 7-9th: Victoria Price testifies that six of the black boys raped her, and six raped Ruby Bates. Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Andy Wright are tried, convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution.

The case against one of the youngest boys, Roy Wright, ends in a hung jury.

April – December: The boys choose the International Labor Defense (ILD) to handle their appeal.

June 22nd: The executions of the eight defendants are stayed, pending their appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.


March 24th: The Alabama Supreme Court upholds the convictions of seven of the boys. One of the youngest, Eugene Williams, is granted a new trial.

May 27th: The U.S. Supreme Court announces it will hear the Scottsboro cases.

November 7th: In Patterson v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the convictions. The Court rules that the defendants were denied the right to counsel, which violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The cases are remanded to the lower court.


March 27th: Haywood Patterson’s second trial begins before another all-white jury. Ruby Bates testifies that neither she nor Victoria Price had been raped on the Southern Railway.

April 9th: The jury finds Patterson guilty, and sentences him to death in the electric chair. The judge decides to postpone the trials of the other boys, fearing that local tensions are too strained to result in a “just and impartial verdict.”

May 7th: In one of many protests across the country, thousands march in Washington D.C. to protest the Alabama trials.

June 22nd: Haywood Patterson is granted a new trial on the basis that the prosecution’s testimony was uncorroborated.

November 20th: The seven oldest boys are tried in front of a new judge and jury. Haywood Patterson and Clarence Norris are sentenced to death.


June 28th: The boys’ newest ILD attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, a Jewish lawyer from New York, files for new trials. Ruling unanimously, the Alabama Supreme Court denies his request.


February 15th: Before the U.S. Supreme Court, Leibowitz argues that blacks had been excluded from the Scottsboro jury pool because of their race. Leibowitz claims that the black names currently on the jury rolls had been forged in after the fact.

April 1st: The Supreme Court rules that the exclusion of black citizens on jury rolls deprives black defendants of their rights to equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court overturns the convictions of Patterson and Norris and the case is remanded to a lower court.

November 13th: Creed Conyer becomes the first post-Reconstruction black person to sit on an Alabama grand jury in the remanded case.


January 23rd: Haywood Patterson is convicted for a fourth time of rape and is sentenced to 75 years in prison. This is the first time in Alabama history a black man is sentenced to anything other than death for the rape of a white woman.

January 24th: While being transported to Birmingham Prison, Ozie Powell attacks a deputy sheriff. Sheriff Jay Sandlin shoots Powell in the head. He lives, but suffers from brain damage for the rest of his life.

December: Alabama Attorney General Thomas Knight meets secretly with Samuel Leibowitz. Knight offers to drop the charges against three of the boys and offers the other three a sentence of no more than ten years. Leibowitz reluctantly agrees, but the deal goes sour when Knight dies unexpectedly.


June 14th: The Alabama Supreme Court upholds the conviction of Haywood Patterson.


  • Clarence Norris is convicted of rape and sentenced to death.
  • Andy Wright is convicted and sentenced to 99 years.
  • Charlie Weems is convicted and sentenced to 75 years.
  • Ozie Powell pleads guilty to assaulting Sheriff Edgar Blalock and is sentenced to 20 years.
  • All charges against Roy Wright and Eugene Williams are dropped, on account of their young age at the time of the crime, and the number of years already served.
  • The charges against Olen Montgomery and Willie Roberson are also dropped, on the grounds that the state no longer believes the men to be guilty.
  • October 26th: The United States Supreme Court declines to review the Patterson and Norris convictions.


June: The Alabama Supreme Court upholds the death sentence for Clarence Norris, but Governor Graves reduces Clarence Norris’s death sentence to life in prison.

August – November: The Alabama Pardon Board declines to pardon any of the boys. The four remaining defendants refuse to admit their guilt to Governor Graves. Angered by their hostility toward him, Governor Graves denies all of the boys’ pardon applications.

After 1938

Charlie Weems is paroled in 1943.

Clarence Norris is paroled in 1944 and leaves Montgomery, violating his parole. Norris is returned to prison a couple of months later; once released, he again jumps parole. Three decades later, Norris surfaces in New York City with a wife and two children. In 1976, he returns to Alabama to be pardoned by Alabama Governor George Wallace. In 1989, Norris, the last surviving Scottsboro boy, dies at age 76.

Andy Wright is also paroled in 1944 and leaves Montgomery, violating his parole as well. Wright is returned to prison a year later, and is paroled in 1950.

Ozie Powell is paroled in 1946.

Haywood Patterson escapes from prison in 1950. Patterson seeks the help of a journalist, Earl Conrad, and together they write¬†The Scottsboro Boy, an account of Patterson’s life. The FBI arrests Patterson, but Michigan’s governor refuses to extradite Patterson to Alabama. In 1951, Patterson is involved in a barroom fight and is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 6 to 15 years in prison in Michigan. After serving less than a year of his sentence, Patterson dies of cancer in prison.

In 1959, Roy Wright returns from a career in the United States Army and as a Merchant Marine. Convinced his wife has been cheating on him, Wright shoots his wife and then commits suicide.

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