The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted posthumous pardons to three of the famous "Scottsboro Boys" on Thursday. Haywood Patterson, Charlie Weems and Andy Wright are the last of the nine black men falsely accused of rape in 1931 to have their convictions cleared.
The nine men, all teenagers at the time, were accused of raping two white women on a train in 1931. All of the men served jail time after being swiftly convicted by an all-white jury, and all but Roy Wright (who was just 13) were sentenced to death. Wright's first trial ended with a hung jury, with 11 jurors voting for the death sentence and one voting for life in prison. Shortly after the first round of trials — which would become one of many in the case — one of the two accusers recanted her story.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned guilty verdicts against the men in Alabama, twice. The first decision, Powell v. Alabama, found that the defendants were denied a right to counsel. After a lower court tried and convicted the men again, the Supreme Court heard Norris v. Alabama, and determined that the men were denied equal protection by the exclusion of blacks on the jury. During a third round of trials, five of those convictions were overturned in 1937, with four remaining on the records.
In 1976, Alabama finally pardoned Clarence Norris, who was then the only known living Scottsboro Boy. Because state law didn't allow for posthumous pardons, the remaining three men's convictions remained. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the state passed a law earlier this year that was specifically designed to let the state pardon Patterson, Weems, and Wright. That law allows the state to grant those pardons posthumously if a case is more than 75 years old.
The story of the Scottsboro Boys was brought back to life in recent years by a 2001 Oscar-nominated documentary and a Broadway musical that received 11 Tony nominations in 2010.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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