UPDATE, Feb. 13: The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-0 Wednesday for a bill that would allow the state parole board to grant posthumous pardons.
As the old saying goes, there’s no time like the present–especially when it comes to justice that’s long overdue. On Monday, the Alabama legislature unveiled bipartisan proposals that may finally exonerate the unjustly convicted “Scottsboro Boys.”
They were the nine young black men, ranging in age from 12 to 19, who were falsely accused and arrested for raping two white women during a freight train ride in Alabama in 1931. The landmark case would eventually reach the Supreme Court and end the exclusion of blacks citizens from juries–but the “Scottsboro Boys” would spend their lives trying to prove their innocence. For too long, the Scottsboro case has been a blight on our legal system and it’s time to correct that wrong, so my letter this week goes to Alabama’s governor.
Dear Gov. Robert Bentley,
It’s me, Melissa.
For 82 years, Clarence, Charlie, Haywood, Olen, Ozie, Willie, Eugene, Andy, and Roy have deserved to be cleared–officially–of a crime they did not commit. And given that we’re in the middle of Black History Month, don’t you think it’s time you made that happen?
Now, I know you’re aware of the two bipartisan proposals in the Alabama State legislature. One would declare the “Scottsboro Boys” exonerated and label them as “victims of a series of gross injustice.” The other would give the authority to the state parole board to grant them posthumous pardons. Alabama State Sen. Robert Orr noted that although the pardons would come late, “that does not mean we should not take steps today to address things we can here in the 21st century that might not have been as they should have been.” Your office even commented on your behalf saying you believed “it’s time to right this wrong.”
So, what’s the hold up?
These young men lost years of their lives because of the rampant racial and judicial inequality that your state allowed. All nine were convicted by an all-white jury, and received death sentences with the exception of the youngest, Roy Wright.
Two years after the crime, Ruby Bates one of the alleged rape victims recanted and testified for the defense. Her reversal set off years of court cases that resulted in the rape charges being dropped for five of the nine, and four being convicted during their retrials. It ultimately set up a lifetime of struggle for nine innocent young men.
If you need some encouragement governor to finally right this wrong, there’s former Alabama Gov. Bibb Graves–who commuted the death sentence of one of the “Scottsboro Boys,” Clarence Norris to life in prison. A small step. And Gov. George Wallace, who although he was inextricably linked with segregation, pardoned Norris in 1976. Another small step.
Or a more recent example: former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue signed pardons in December for the Wilmington ten, the nine men and one woman wrongly convicted more than 40 years ago in the fire bombing of a grocery store.
Although four of the Wilmington ten have passed away, six of them got to see justice in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, Gov. Bentley, none of the “Scottsboro Boys” are still alive today. But you have the power, for history’s sake, to take the ultimate step and right the wrong that was done to these nine young innocent men so long ago.
At some point governor, justice must be served. And for the “Scottsboro Boys,” there truly is no time like the present.
Read more about the Scottsboro Boys here. Video of Melissa’s open letter is below.