The ‘Scottsboro Boys’ Case

1932

In Powell v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the convictions and death sentences of nine African Americans known as the “Scottsboro Boys” because their rape trial had been held in Scottsboro, Ala. The court finds that the teens were denied their Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel because they had not seen an attorney until the morning of the trial and had no chance to put on a meaningful defense.

In a second trial, the nine again are convicted, despite testimony by one of the two alleged victims, both white, that the rape never occurred. After the justices reverse those convictions because of the exclusion of African Americans from the jury, a third trial occurs. Four defendants are again convicted and a fifth pleads guilty; charges against the four others are dropped. By 1950, four of the five men will be paroled; the fifth will die in prison.