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Black Communists Speak on Scottsboro: A Documentary History

Walter T. Howard

Publication Year: 2008

On March 25, 1931, Alabama police detained nine young African AMerican men at a railroad stop not far from Scottsboro.  In the process, they encountered two white women --  who promptly accused the young men of raping them.  Soon after, all-white juries found the nine youths guilty and eight of them were sentenced to death.  Although many Americans were outraged by the injustices of the case, the loudest voices raised in protest were those of members of the American Communist Party.

Many white Communists spoke out, but black Communists took the lead in organizing public protests and legal responses.  As this surprising book makes clear, they were acting at the direction of the Communist International  (Comintern), which had directed them to address the "Negro problem."  Now, with the opening of formerly inaccessible Communist party archives, this collection of primary documents reveals the little-known but major roles played by black Communists in the case of "the Scottsboro Boys."

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-ix

Black Communists Speak on Scottsboro is an account of a neglected chapter in the story of the Scottsboro saga. The Alabama tragedy stands as a major event in North American and international race relations history during the 20th century. Understandably, then, many historians have written about it. Few scholars, however, have focused in any meaningful...

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Introduction: Background and Context

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pp. 1-27

Southern law officers, on 25 March 1931, detained nine young African American males at a railroad stop in Paint Rock, Alabama, after hearing of a brawl between black and white youths on a freight train. In the process, they came across two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, who promptly accused the nine young blacks of raping them. Four of the so called...

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“They Shall Not Die!”

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pp. 28-56

...The Communist Party of the United States calls upon the white workers of Alabama, the white workers of the whole south and the whole United States to make the cause of the Negro workers their own cause.We call upon both Negro and white workers to unite and to rally to the cause of these 9 Negro boys who are...

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A Call to Millions

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pp. 57-83

To the working class mothers of the world: We are the mothers of the nine Scottsboro Negro boys who have been sentenced to die on the electric chair. The world knows our poor boys is innocent. We appeal to all working class mothers to help us save our boys from being killed. It might have happened to any working class mother’s boy. We’ve been starving all our lives and forced to live from hand to...

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Harry Haywood Speaks

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pp. 84-98

...The recent action of the United States Supreme Court in reversing the decision of the Scottsboro Circuit Court and the Alabama Supreme Court in the Scottsboro case, is a victory of far-reaching significance in the struggles of the Negro masses for liberation and the revolutionary labor movement in general. The powerful mass protest, the Communist Party and the International Labor Defense, has again stayed the hands of the...

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William Patterson Speaks

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pp. 99-120

...An analysis of the Southern Case is vitally necessary. This, to be complete, must treat of the political significance of Scottsboro, its strength as an organizational vehicle and as an educational platform. It must treat of the possibilities this case contains for destroying the illusions of democracy. It must struggle against the deeply rooted anti-Negro prejudices of the white...

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Monitoring the Case

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pp. 121-134

International Labor Defense attorney Joseph R Brodsky, in April 1933, filed a motion with Judge Horton for a new trial for Haywood Patterson on the grounds that the conviction was against the weight of the evidence.The Scottsboro defendants, on April 28, protested ill-treatment in Jefferson County Jail, Birmingham, with a hunger strike. On May 5, on a mass Scottsboro march to...

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Following Through

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pp. 135-151

A compromise between Alabama and the defense was reached in July 1937. Authorities sentenced Ozie Powell, who pled guilty to the charge of assault with intent to murder, to twenty years in prison. However, the original rape charge against Powell and the four others was dropped.The state of Alabama announced the release of Roy Wright, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, and Willie...

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pp. 152-153

Negotiations for the release of the five Scottsboro defendants still in prison continued throughout 1938. The united front forces sustained their agitation for the freedom of the Scottsboro victims into the 1940s. On February 20, 1942, the Alabama Pardons Board denied pardon to Clarence Norris and Charles Weems. In...

Profiles of Black Communists

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pp. 155-157


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pp. 158-182

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 183-187


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pp. 188-197

E-ISBN-13: 9781592135998

Publication Year: 2008