Document 5: Ada Wright, "My Two Sons Face the Electric Chair," Labor Defender, September 1931, pp. 172, 182.

Introduction

    The mothers of the Scottsboro Boys played dual roles in the propaganda campaign surrounding the Scottsboro case. On the one hand, they poured out their earnest pleas to save their boys, and they also (as here) stated and restated their support for the International Labor Defense over the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as defenders of the nine youths. Letters from the mothers appeared often in the Communist press and demonstrated the range of issues that drew the attention of the Scottsboro Mothers.

    Wright's letter started out with the personal recollection of how she found out about the arrests, using language filled with dialogue and colloquialisms that gave it a ring of authenticity. She aimed to convince readers of the boys' goodness and innocence. Wright's letter also reported a measure of support from her white employers, unlike later mothers' letters that reported only suspicion and deception. Perhaps the I.L.D. editors chose to offend as few constituencies as possible, not knowing which ones might later be needed as allies. Readers could not help but grasp Ada Wright's already solid commitment to the I.L.D., whose representatives treated her and her family with dignity and respect unknown before: "… we thought we were alone in the world without friends and suddenly we found people wantin' to defend our boys." Although the N.A.A.C.P. kept "pesterin'" her, she vowed commitment to the I.L.D.

"My Two Sons Face the Electric Chair"

(As told to S. Van Veen)

    I have two sons and both are in jail at this minute facing the electric chair. The day before their arrest they kissed me good-bye and told me not to worry. They said, "Mother, we're goin' out to Memphis to find work and just as soon as we get work we will send you some money so you and little sister will get along better." That was what they said.

    I didn't like to see them go. They were always good boys; always minded me and never got into any trouble. But I let them go along with two other friends - neighbors to us, down in Chattanooga. They are Eugene Williams and Heywood Patterson. So the boys all start out together and the very next morning as I was goin' to work my sister came runnin' with the newspaper and she says, "Ada, where are your boys," and I said, "Why, they're goin' to Memphis to seek work. You know Auntie lives there."

    Well, she just handed me the paper and says, "Ada, just look at this." Well, I looked and there I see that my two boys are arrested and in jail at Scottsboro on a rape charge along with seven other boys.

    Well, you know I just felt sick all over. My boys are good boys. I didn't bring up my boys to be hung. But what was I to do? I went on down to work but everything was goin' round and I hardly know what I was doin'. Well, the white lady where I work, she says, "Ada, if I were you I'd get a lawyer." Her husband, he gave me five dollars and said I should try to collect money to save my boys. Well, I was just so helpless, I was pretty near crazy! Me, just a poor woman and working hard to give the children enough to eat and bring them up decent. What was I to do?

    Well, I quit work and started to collect money for a lawyer. Then this lawyer, Stephen Roddy,* he's no good, and a drunkard, he says he wants ninety dollars. So we collected it for him and what did he do? Why, he just told the judge that he wasn't there to defend the boys and he did not want to defend them in court. He just plain railroaded them to the chair. He told them all to plead guilty and to get life. But the boys refused to plead guilty. They weren't guilty and they did not plead guilty. But what could I do, just a poor widow?

    And then the International Labor Defense came to see us. They told us they were a defense organization for the working class and they said they wanted to defend our boys and do everything possible to get them free. Well, you can just imagine how we felt then. Here we thought we were alone in the world without friends and suddenly we found people wantin' to defend our boys. Well, we said certain, sure, please do all you can. Not one of those boys is guilty. Our boys never saw the other boys till they saw them in jail. Roy ain't but fourteen years old and he was never a strong boy; been sickly since he was born. He is just a baby. Two of the other boys are only fourteen, too, and there ain't none of them over twenty. Well, that's the whole story.

    The Defense Committee sent lawyers down to Scottsboro and invited some of us mothers up north to help with the defense. We told Roddy that we never wanted to have anything to do with him again. But the N.A.A.C.P. has been pesterin' us ever since to let them take the case and to keep Roddy on the job. But we told them plain we know our friends when we see them and we're a goin' to stick to the League of Struggle for Negro Rights and the International Labor Defense Committee. I've been speaking at meetings all over New York, Chicago and other places, and I never knew we had so many friends. Why, it seems there are thousands of working people in this country, white and black, that just wants to do all they can to get the boys out. It just gives me so much courage and makes me feel so good. I want my boys out but I want all the other boys free just as well. I can see where we all got to stick together. And I think if we get all our boys free that there are a lot of Negro mothers in the South who will be happy for once in all their lives, because they know that there is a real fight goin' on against lynchin' our people in the South.

    So I am sticking by the International Labor Defense and they are stickin' by us, and if we all pull together some good got to come from it.

    And I want to say right here that whatever happens I can see clear now, and whether my boys live or die I'm in the fight as long as I live.

    Mrs. Ada Wright.

*Roddy, the N.A.A.C.P. lawyer has since gone insane. The I.L.D. is demanding a new trial for the boys on the basis that they were represented in court by an attorney mentally incompetent.


 
back to top