“I don’t know whether I am doing a right deed as to plead to you. But I do know that I am all right to plead for my race…I am a Southern colored girl in New York.” –Miss South Carolinean, April 10, 1933
Letter from Miss South Carolinean [Carolinian] to President Franklin Roosevelt Regarding the Scottsboro Case
Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Robertson, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery, Andy Wright, and Ray Wright were known as the “Scottsboro Boys.” In 1931, the nine African Americans were tried and convicted of assault and rape in Alabama by all-white juries within two weeks. Eight were sentenced to death. In this letter to Franklin Roosevelt, “Miss South Carolinian” asked for the President’s help.
The initial speedy trials, the age of the defendants, the racial bias of the juries and the severity of the sentences led to arguments that the defendants never received fair trials and a movement to free them. Their case went to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled they were denied the right to counsel, violating their right to due process under the 14th amendment. Eventually, their sentences were commuted and charges against four were dropped, but their lives were forever changed as most spent years in jail. On November 21, 2013, posthumous pardons were issued by the state of Alabama to Charlie Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
(via the “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” eGuide)
This letter is among the featured items at the “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" exhibit now on display at the National Archives Museum.
A landmark case. We still aren’t as far from this as we should be.