Local woman works to clear names of the Scottsboro Boys
SCOTTSBORO, AL (WRCB) - A local woman is working to finally clear the names of the Scottsboro Boys. It's a case that's considered a symbol racial injustice in America.
The group of nine African-American teens, four from Chattanooga, were wrongfully convicted of raping two white women on a train in 1931. Only one was pardoned before his death.
The Scottsboro Boys Act was signed into law in April and went into effect July 1. It allows for posthumous pardons. One local woman is leading the charge to clear their names and re-write history books.
"This was just not a case that was talked about and I want to know why," Shelia Washington said.
Shelia Washington is determined to clear the names of the Scottsboro Boys, saying they're still shamed, more than 80 years later. She opened the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center to spread the word.
"It wasn't an easy task. I can say it again, it wasn't easy. I faced a lot of prejudice," Washington said.
In 1931 two white women accused these nine black, teen boys, one only twelve years old, of raping them on a train traveling from Chattanooga. One woman later admitted they made it up.
The Scottsboro Boys appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court landmark decisions that defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can't be excluded from juries.
"This is a civil rights case," she said.
Only one of the Scottsboro Boys received a pardon before his death-- saying he only wished the other eight could have, too. Washington's been working with local lawmakers to make that happen.
"I wanted to work so hard to prove their innocent," Washington said.
The Alabama state legislature passed the Scottsboro Boys Act that allows people to be pardoned after death.
"No oppositions, no questions. Everybody applauded the fact that it was time to correct this wrong," Washington said.
Governor Bentley signed it into law at the museum. It went into effect this week.
"In my mind, I'm thinking, free at last, free at last, no more shame on their names," Washington said.
She says she's waiting for the Jackson and Morgan County judges to sign off on the petition to submit to the Pardons and Parole Board to officially exonerate them.
"Never before has anybody been pardoned after death, so that's a big victory for humanity," she said.
Her next goal, is to get Tennessee officials to help recognize two of the Scottsboro Boy's graves found at a cemetery near Chattanooga.
"To recognize these two as Civil Rights icons and put a historical marker on the grave and also to clean up around the graves," Washington said.
Shelia Washington is also searching for the graves of the other Scottsboro Boys to also recognize. Their stories have inspired books, songs and the Broadway musical The Scottsboro Boys.
Once the petitions for their pardons are filed, then the state Board of Pardons and Paroles will have to hold a public hearing and vote to grant the pardons.
If you have information on where the other Scottsboro Boys are buried, or any other helpful information, you can find Shelia Washington's contact information at this link: http://www.scottsboro-boys.org/index.html