The campaign to involve the parents, and particularly the mothers, of the Scottsboro Boys did not take long to get started. On April 18, 1931, Helen Marcy wrote this piece on the parents of three defendants from Chattanooga: Heywood Patterson's mother and father and the widowed mother of Andy and Roy Wright.
Purported letters from the Scottsboro Boys became a common feature in Communist Party newspapers and in its monthly magazine The Labor Defender. The letters always expressed great affection, respect and love--"My Dearest Sweet Mother and Father"--consistent with the image of youthful dependency and innocence attached to the defendants by their supporters in opposition to the images of depraved, marauding defilers of white Southern womanhood that filled many Alabama newspapers after the trial.
The letters also got the finer points of the legal message across. At this early stage of the appeal process, the goals of the International Labor Defense (I.L.D.) were to secure a new trial and a change of venue. Visceral references to the impending execution and professions of innocence of the crime laid a foundation for the mothers' involvement in the protest movement. Later, the letters from prison validated the I.L.D.'s claim to represent the Scottsboro Boys in court, in opposition to similar claims by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Chattanooga Ministerial Alliance.
Marcy's description of the extreme poverty of the parents--$7 a week to support a family of eight--provided a plausible reason for the teenage boys to be riding the rails and played up the continuing theme of the deprivation wrought by the Great Depression on the working class.
"Save Us" Negro
Boys Write Folks
By HELEN MARCY"My Dearest Sweet Mother and Father:--
"This is to let you know of my present life and worried to think that your poor son is going to die for nothing."
This in a letter sent to his mother in Chattanooga by 17-year-old Heywood Patterson from the Scottsboro jail after he and seven more Negro youngsters had been sentenced to the electric chair--victims of a vicious frame up and a still more vicious bosses system that is grinding under foot both white and colored workers. The letter continues:
"Do all you can to save me from being put to death for nothing. Mother, do what you can to save your son.
"We did not get a fair trial, and you try to have it moved somewhere else, if we can get a new trial. Do you all try to come down here and try to get me a new trial, or I will be put to death the 10th day of July.
"I am in jail for something I did not do. You know that it hurt me to my heart. I will be moved to Kilby prison.
"Good-bye and good luck. Heywood."
April 8, Scottsboro, Ala.
Mrs. Patterson and Mrs. Wright, whose two sons, Andy and Roy, one 14 and the other 17 years old, are being held with the other seven, live in West Chattanooga, on the banks of the Tennessee. Clean, but very poor working class homes..
Mr. Patterson works in a steel mill on the stagger plan three days a week. He used to make $28 a week in the "good days," but with the stagger plan wages were cut and now for three days work he gets a measly $7 for a family of eight. Fellow steel workers in the plant made a collection and raised $10.36 for the defense of the young Negroes.
Andy and Roy Wright lost their father seven years ago.
Andy started to work when he was 10 years old to help support the family. He helped in groceries, and up to last year had been working as a truck driver. He was fired. Every day the boss told him to come back-perhaps he would get his job. Day after day, for a whole year, Andy hung around the firms windows until he saw it was no use.
He could no longer stand being a burden on his mother, who makes $6 a week for working day and night in a "white folks" home, so Andy and Roy and Heywood, who palled around together, decided to go to Memphis to look for work. Andy's auntie lived there and she would support them until they [could find a job.]
So they hopped on a train headed in that direction. Then came the arrest.
They are in constant danger of being lynched. Their food and bedding is not fit for pigs. The bosses newspapers are all excited that they dared raise their voices against being electrocuted for a crime they did not commit, and on the word of two notorius prostitutes.
From inquiries in the neighborhood, I learned that the two white girls, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, are well known as prostitutes in that section where they have plied their trade for a number of years.
Andy's mother, tears in her eyes, showed me his letter from the Scottsboro jail.
"Why I am sitting down, thinking of no one but you, Mama.
"They didn't give me a fair trial. They are going to kill me for nothing. You know I would not do a thing like that. They got me all for nothing.
"when they move me I will write back to you.
"From your son, Andy.
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