Scottsboro Boys Trial Worksheet

Name: ______________________________________________
Period: __________________
The Scottsboro Boys Trial
(15 points)
Directions: Read the passage below about the Scottsboro Boys Trial and then
answer the questions that follow. This must be done independently.
The Scottsboro Boys were nine young black men, falsely accused of raping two
white women on board a train near Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. Convicted and
facing execution, the case of Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Clarence Norris, Olen
Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Haywood Patterson, Eugene Williams, and Andrew
and Leroy Wright sparked international demonstrations and succeeded in both
highlighting the racism of the American legal system and in overturning the
On March 25, 1931, nine unemployed young black men, illegally riding the rails and
looking for work, were taken off a freight train at Scottsboro, Alabama and held on
a minor charge. The Scottsboro deputies found two white women, Ruby Bates and
Victoria Price, and pressured them into accusing the nine youths of raping them on
board the train. The charge of raping white women was an explosive accusation,
and within two weeks the Scottsboro Boys were convicted and eight sentenced to
death, the youngest, Leroy Wright at age 13, to life imprisonment.
The American Communist Party (CP), in this period at the height of its organizing
focus in the American South against racism and economic exploitation, immediately
took the case on, and largely through activist efforts, sparked a mass defense
movement. The CP brought in their legal arm, the International Labor Defense
(ILD) to represent the nine. After two trials in which an all-white jury, fueled by a
biased Alabama press, convicted the nine, the ILD and the CP began a national
protest campaign to overturn the conviction, marked by numerous street marches,
national and international speaking tours, and popular songs. Because of their
principled leadership in the campaign, the CP gained much widespread respect
among African Americans and civil rights activists. When they traveled to
Washington, D.C. to demonstrate, the CP stopped at segregated restaurants to stage
sit-ins against discrimination, helping to turn the campaign into a trial of the system
of segregation and racism in America, presaging the sit-in tactics of the 1960s civil
rights movement.
Although initially hostile to the Communists and wary of being involved in the
touchy issue of black men raping white women, the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ultimately joined with the CP and other
civil rights organizations to form the Scottsboro Defense Committee. Eventually,
one of the white women, Ruby Bates, came forward to repudiate her testimony,
acknowledging that she and Price had been pressured into falsely accusing the
Scottsboro Boys, and she became part of the campaign to save their lives.
The case went to the United States Supreme Court in 1937, and the lives of the nine
were saved, though it was almost twenty years before the last defendant was freed
from prison. The trial of the Scottsboro Boys is perhaps one of the proudest
moments of American radicalism, in which a mass movement of blacks and
whites—led by Communists and radicals—successfully beat the Jim Crow legal
(Adapted from:
1) Who were the Scottsboro Boys? How many of them were there?
2) Why were they put on trial? (Be specific here and provide details)
3) Which organization(s) helped to seek justice for these wrongly accused men?
4) Who eventually helped these men by coming forth to repudiate (deny) her
5) How do you think that this trial will correlate with the trial of Tom Robinson?
Please answer this in 3 – 4 complete sentences. Use examples from the text to
support your answer.
6) Have you ever witnessed an injustice of any kind? How did you react?