Document 23: Scottsboro Defense Committee, Scottsboro: The Shame of America, The True Story and the True Meaning of this Famous Case (New York: Scottsboro Defense Committee, 1936), pp. 3-10.


    This pamphlet focused on the Communist Party agenda: poverty and unemployment as the cause of worker despair. The text revisited the Scottsboro Boys at the time they made their decisions to ride the rails; it showed the hopelessness of their young lives and the desperation of their family situations in the Depression-era South. The pamphlet painted a picture of the Scottsboro Mother, not on a podium with New York Communists or in a May Day parade surrounded by flowers and public adulation, but in her pathetic shack trying to make a go of it with many mouths to feed and only back-breaking work, when work could be had. The pamphlet aimed for sympathy for the cause of the Scottsboro Boys by revisiting the lives they had known with their families before their March 25, 1931 incarceration.

    The introduction to the pamphlet also served to introduce the new defense team, then under the aegis of the Scottsboro Defense Committee. The I.L.D. had a much diminished role by this time; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined the International Labor Defense and many other groups in support of the defense effort. The portions of the pamphlet not included here examined the subsequent trials of the Scottsboro Boys as well as the political furor ignited by organizations rallying on their behalf.


The Shame of America

The True Story
and the True
Meaning of this
Famous Case--

Published by


Price Five Cents


    As the first edition of this pamphlet goes to the press, the Scottsboro trials are scheduled to come up for trial in Decatur again, in April, 1936, before Judge W. W. Callahan. An appeal is being taken by attorneys retained by the Scottsboro Defense Committee, from the 75-year sentence meted out to Haywood Patterson.

    At the same time, Sheriff J. Street Sandlin of Morgan County, Alabama, has announced he will seek indictments on charges of "attempt to murder" against Ozie Powell, the Scottsboro defendant whom he himself shot in cold blood, Clarence Norris, and Roy Wright.

    The committee will put up an uncompromising defense against these new Scottsboro frame-ups.

    The Scottsboro Defense Committee which, with the consent of the Scottsboro boys and the approval of their parents, is in full charge of all defense activities in the case, is composed of representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the International Labor Defense, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Church League for Industrial Democracy (Episcopal), the Methodist Federation for Social Service.

    The National Urban League and the National Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners are sponsors of the committee, together with many prominent individuals from all parts of the country, among whom are:

    Charles Bickford, Rev. W. Russell Bowie, Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, Rev. F. A. Cullen, John P. Davis, Dorothy Detzer, Prof. W. E. B. DuBois, Roscoes Dunjee, George Clifton Edwards, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Rt. Rev. Charles K. Gilbert, Elisabeth Gilman, Hubert C. Herring, T. Arnold Hill, Julius Hochman, Rev. John Haynes Holmes, Mrs. Bayard James, John Paul Jones, Prof. Robert Morss Lovett, Rev. J. Howard Melish, J. E. Mitchell, Charles Clayton Morrison, Carl Murphy, Rev. James Meyers, Pres. Wm. A. Neilson, Bishop Robert L. Paddock, Rev. A. Clayton Powell, Jr., Morrie Ryskind, Dr. Robert Searle, Donald Ogden Stewart, Helen Phelps Stokes, Maurice Sugar, Mrs. Walter Weyl, Mary E. Woolley, Oswald Garrison Villard, Louise Young.

    The National Board of the Young Women's Christian Association is also a supporter of the committee.

    Scottsboro Defense Committees on a local scale, cooperating with the national committee, have the participation and endorsement of many churches and other organizations, including a large number of trade-unions.

    The officers of the Scottsboro Defense Committee are: Rev. Allan Knight Chalmers, chairman, Dean Elbert Russell, Rt. Rev. William Scarlett, James Weldon, vice-chairman, Col. William Jay Schieffelin, treasurer and Morris Shapiro, secretary.

The Real Story of Scottsboro

    Two rooms. The one in front has a window--well, anyway, it has a window frame. It looks out on the porch--a collection of grimy, gray planks never painted, never mended--with gaping wounds left by wind, weather and the tread of many feet.

    A boy sits in the window frame looking out--past the porch, past the street--a muddy alley framed by two rows of wretched little huts tottering on spindly brick legs.

    Beyond the street are the railroad tracks--shining highways of promise. The boy's eyes follow the tracks. Behind him, pandemonium. The four littlest are howling. The two older kids are shouting to quiet them--especially Ophelia, age 11, the second mother of the Williams family.

    Mrs. Williams bends over a huge tub of wash in the back room near the door. Her wide sad eyes look up at her little brood in silence. There isn't anything to say. There isn't anything to eat. This "washing and ironing" won't be paid for until Thursday and then it'll only be 90c and how far will the 90c go for groceries to feed eight hungry mouths.

    Mrs. Williams sighs, stretches to ease her back and looks to the boy at the window. Eugene, her first born. If only he were a little older and less puny. He just doesn't look a day over his thirteen and a half years.

    Her eyes follow Eugene's until they hit the shining rails. A cold shudder covers her. A shudder that has nothing to do with the chilly March wind that races through the shack utterly contemptuous of the match box walls and the leaky roof. If only those rails don't tempt him too much. If only they don't lure him away. …

    A gray shack that looks as if the first real gust of wind will scatter it across the stubble-covered fields into the peach orchard at its far end. Inside, the same rickety table and chairs, faded patch-work quilts and garish calendars that fill all the other shacks like it in and around Monroe Georgia.

    A slim, energetic woman comes in from the windswept fields. Mary Alice, age five and tiny, paddles across the splintery floor on bare feet to meet her. Mrs. Montgomery barely notices Mary Alice as her eyes leap across the room to the sagging spring bed in the corner. There he lies, her oldest son, Olen, staring up at the cracks in the roof.

    "No use, mom, it ain't no use. It just gets worse and worse. I can't hardly see them cracks any more at all. Jest only when I close one eye. This one. Then I can see some."

    But there is no money, no doctor, no help. There is only the heartache of watching Olen's eye sight grow dimmer and dimmer. Hope lies out yonder somewhere in Tennessee, down in Memphis at the fabulous hospital where they care for colored people's eyes. But how to get there. …

    Three boys sitting on a bunch of ties in the Chattanooga railroad yards. Like a huge spider-web the tangled steel rails scatter in all directions before them until they resolve themselves into a double highway.

    The boys are dressed in faded overalls and ancient sweaters ravelled at the neck and elbows. The one in the middle is an angry looking boy of about sixteen. Glumly he listens to the excited tales poured into his ears by his companions--obviously brothers, they look so much alike. Then they all stop. Nothing more to say. The same old story about no jobs, not enough to eat, pay cuts for those at home who are working. But out there where the rails lead--somewhere--there must be places where there is no hunger, no misery, no gray shabby walls, no tears. …

    March 24, 1931 --A misty drizzle falls over Huntsville, Alabama, in the early hours before dawn. Four shadowy figures drop to the ground from the yawning mouth of an empty box car. Two men and two girls. They stop a little further along the railroad embankment and the girls go off together.

    A few hours later. The sun is shining and along the same embankment stand the two girls and one of the men. The girls wear overalls. The taller and prettier of the two looks a little frightened. The older one, her bold face rigidly molded into a harsh cynicism, looks annoyed. A freight train pulls out of the Huntsville yards, and our three adventurers swing aboard. The boy is tall, blond and strapping. All three sit in the open door of the box car, swinging their feet over the edge, singing songs. The boy, Lester, knows lots of songs and ballads and he can play them all on his mouth organ.

    After dark they arrive in Chattanooga, Tennesee. They wander through the tangle of the railroad yards and meet up with a slim dark boy. He knows his way around. He's been here before and he leads them to the jungle alongside the tracks. The jungle is a wide field bordered by scraggly shrubbery and at the far end a row of little rickety Negro homes.

    Shortly after, the boys have been to town and returned with some food, and the girls have built a fire. The four young people, their faces outlined by the orange glow of the flames discuss their plight. The young girl, Ruby, agrees to everything the older woman, Victoria, says.

    They decide to go back home to Huntsville the next morning--back to the 11 hour night shift in the textile mill at $2.75 a week, back to the unpainted company houses, the pellagra diet, the endless monotony of work and exhausted sleep. Victoria, who the night before had agreed to go off without her companion Jack Tiller, until he had found a more graceful way of leaving his wife and joining her, insists on going back. Ruby, to whom the adventure of a ride on a freight train, sleeping out under the stars, had seemed the night before a thrilling adventure and marvelous escape from the drudgery of toil--shivers and agrees. The ground is hard. The dark is frightening. And Lester doesn't care much where he goes anyway just so long as he keeps on moving. Huntsville is not the most attractive place to him. He has just finished serving a chain-gang sentence for vagrancy there. That's how he met Jack Tiller and Victoria Price the night they were brought into the city lock-up for "public lewdness" and Huntsville was the place where he had met Ruby. Gilley, their "jungle guide" is just as ready as not to go on to Huntsville with his newly-found friends.

    March 25, 1931--A freight train lumbers out of the Chattanooga yards. It's a long rattly train--mostly empty box cars, oil tanks and in the middle a string of chat-filled gondola cars. A varied company has scattered itself throughout the train.

    One gondola car holds our four young white friends. In the one next to it a group of white boys. One empty oil tank has a single passenger--half blind Olen Montgomery finally started on his way to the hospital in Memphis. Further along hanging onto the straps of another tanker is a very sick boy. Too sick to get on the train without help. After he was sentenced to death, the world learned that his name was Willie Roberson.

    A group in another car is more congenial. The three boys of the railroad ties, Roy and Andy Wright, their pal Haywood Patterson and little Eugene Williams--escaped from his home and its hunger, determined to make a fortune for his mother and the kids. Three more Negro boys, Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems and Ozie Powell, strangers to the four and to each other, joined up with this little group--all bent on the same mission, all in search of hope and plenty.

    The white boys get bored as the train rattles along. They begin to throw some of the sharp pebbles at the Negro boys. They amble over and step on their fingers--and the fight starts. The Negro boys outnumber the whites. One runs to the edge and shouts over to the next gondola car for help. Lester Carter, who is also getting bored in the company of Gilley and the girls, hops over to join the fight. He doesn't know and doesn't care much what it's about--except that some white boys are asking his aid in fighting a bunch of "niggers."

    But the Negro boys get the best of the fight and the white boys noticing that the train is slowing up as it mounts a slow but steady grade, jump over the side--land easily on the embankment along the tracks. Lester jumps with them. Gilley, apparently tired of his role as protector of the white womanhood of the south, abandons his fair ladies without any compunction and attempts to join up with the other white hoboes who, not too angrily, amble along the tracks back to the nearest town--Stevenson, Alabama. But Gilley is clumsy. He tries to jump from the corner of the car. He slips. He is about to fall under the whirring wheels when a strong arm pulls him back. It is Haywood Patterson's arm.

    Gilley goes back to the girls.

    As the five white boys approach the station at Stevenson they begin to realize the seriousness of their plight. Five young boys walking along the tracks must beware. There's always the "law" around waiting to clap charges of vagrancy on them and send them to the chain gang.

    Sure enough, when they reach the station--there is the "law". Six months of back-breaking toil on Alabama's roads stare them in the face. And suddenly their way out becomes clear. From shiftless young vagrants with no place to go and no money in their pockets they can become the victims of a foul attack--the heroes of a narrow escape.

    Their imaginations run riot. They tell a wild tale of knives and pistols brandished by ferocious blacks who hurled them from a swiftly moving train. The "law" jumps to the trigger. The wires start humming along the line--to the next station--Paint Rock--"Stop that train--stop that freight--round up the niggers--"

    By the time the train is flagged to a stop at the dusty metropolis of Paint Rock, Alabama--the total population of the town is at the station armed with broom-sticks, rusty rifles, ancient shot guns. Savage delight and grim determination--waiting for that train.

    The round-up begins. The seven Negro boys who were in the same car--dazed--surprised--frightened--are shouted to the ground. "Here's another one," "Here's another," as zealous deputies find the two sick boys in the empty oil tanks.

    Nine Negro children are huddled together in the middle of the station platform. Nine youngsters--the youngest thirteen the oldest scarcely twenty. Ragged, dusty, dazed. Armed men crowd around them shouting in their faces.

    And suddenly a yell of glee from behind the train which is just making ready to pull out … "There's two white girls out here--two of them!"

    And as the train leaves Paint Rock, Alabama, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price--who has managed to fall into the most extraordinary faint--are led to a little store just by the station. "Did they hurt you? Did they touch you? The black. …" Without waiting for any answer from Ruby and with Victoria probably watching them from beneath lowered eye lids--the words begin to spread through the crowd--"Rape--lynch--rape--attack--white girls--niggers lynch them--lynch them."

    As the crescendo mounts, the nine Negro boys are loaded into a car and rushed down to the county seat of Jackson County--Scottsboro, Alabama.

    A few moments later Ruby and Victoria and Gilley follow them. By the time they arrive their fellow passengers the five white boys, are already installed in the little brick jail house right behind the court. The Negro boys have been thrown into the jim crow cells. Victoria and Ruby are rushed in and out again, to the doctor--to Dr. Bridges.

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