28, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1967), pp. 276-287. Anthologized in The Negro in
Depression and War: Prelude to a Revolution, 1930-1945. Bernard
Sternsher, ed. Chicago, 1969. See also his
"Changing America and the Changing Image of Scottsboro"
and his 2002
letter on Scottsboro elsewhere on
Study Guide for The Scottsboro Boys,
the Broad-way musical that opened at New York's Lyceum The-ater on
October 31, 2010, quotes twice from this paper.
NAACP versus the Communist Party: The Scottsboro Rape Cases, 1931-1932
In the South,
conservatives are certain that communists are the instigators of the civil
rights movement. American liberals hold that communists merely pose as
advocates of civil rights in order that they may sabotage the aspirations
of Negroes, thereby blackening the image of American democracy throughout
the world. Diverse authorities can be cited in support of the liberal
view. For example, both J. Edgar Hoover and W. E. B. DuBois could agree
(at least, at one time) on communist perfidy in the Scottsboro rape cases.1
More recently, Langston Hughes wrote concerning the same cases in which
nine young Negroes were accused of rape in Alabama:
. . . the NAACP’s
initial efforts in behalf of the boys were nullified by the intervention
of the Communists. The latter, seeking to exploit the matter for their
own ideological purposes, misrepresented the NAACP . . . and persuaded the
boys to abandon the NAACP-provided counsel, which included Clarence Darrow
and Arthur Garfield Hays.2
Walter White judged that
communist strategy in the Scottsboro cases was calculated to create
“martyrs” of innocent Negro boys.3
communist activities in the Scottsboro cases is numerous and varied. Some
works of scholarship record that communists stole millions of dollars
intended for the defense of the boys; others dwell on the incompetence of
the communist attorneys, while a Jesuit scholar damns the Reds for
betraying one of the Scottsboro boys, who had escaped, to the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. This paper will be limited to a discussion of
the most serious charge against the Communist Party—that it sought to
sacrifice the young Negroes to martyrdom for the cause of communist
In March, 1931, two
white prostitutes were allegedly raped by nine blacks on a freight train
near Scottsboro, Alabama. Feelings in the community were inflamed, and
over a thousand National Guardsmen were needed to protect the boys (the
eldest of whom was twenty years old) from lynching. For the trial, Judge
A. E. Hawkins appointed the entire local bar to defend the youths, but
before proceedings could begin a Chattanooga lawyer, Stephen Roddy,
arrived. He informed the judge, “I am here . . . not as employed counsel
for the defense, [but] people who are interested in them have spoken to me
about it . . . .”4 After
some discussion Roddy agreed to defend the lads with the aid of a
Scottsboro barrister, Milo Moody. Eight of the boys were quickly found
guilty, and all but the youngest were sentenced to die in the electric
chair. It appeared as if most of the cases had ended on April 9, 1931.
Even before this
date the International Labor Defense, a communist front organization, had
shown interest in the cases. Its avowed purpose was to defend radicals
and workers in the courts through two methods used in conjunction: first,
the ILD endeavored to defend persons by the use of regular legal channels,
e.g., by providing lawyers and appeals to higher courts; second, it sought
to influence the courts with mass pressure by such means as
demonstrations, petitions, and telegrams. Prior to these cases, ILD had
been inactive in defense of Negroes.5
On April 2, the New York Daily Worker declared that
“Alabama bosses” planned to lynch nine Negro “workers” in Scottsboro, and
as the first trial opened in Alabama, communists had distributed
anti-lynching leaflets. When the first verdicts were announced, the Party
press decried them as frameups. The ILD telegraphed Judge Hawkins and
other Alabama officials denouncing the trials and demanding the immediate
release of the Negro boys. Should these ultimatums be ignored, the ILD
warned, the recipients would be held personally responsible for the “legal
replied that such accusations were absurd. The Scottsboro boys “were
given every opportunity to provide themselves with counsel,” he noted,
“and I have appointed able members of the Jackson County bar to represent
them. I personally will welcome any investigation of the trial.”
Although Governor Miller of Alabama deigned not to recognize the
telegrams, the attorney for the defense was less reticent. Stephen Roddy
remarked, “I do not see how anyone can say that we were not striving to
see that the defendants are getting the fairest trial.” On April 9, Roddy
moved that the defendant Patterson receive a new trial, a motion that
invoked an automatic stay of execution for the Negro. Roddy also
contemplated similar actions for the other defendants.7
The ILD apparently
attempted to lure Roddy and, with him, the defense of the Scottsboro boys
to the Red banner, but Roddy rejected its appeal. Nor did he display any
inclination of abandoning the cases to the communists. The ILD then tried
to retain Clarence Darrow; he, too, declined the offer.8
Failing to secure either the attorney already managing the cases or the
leading trial lawyer in the nation, the ILD employed George W. Chamlee of
Chattanooga, a former Attorney General for the State of Tennessee.9
In addition to the
legal defense, the ILD organized “mass action.” On April 12, some 1,300
workers demonstrated in Cleveland to protest the Scottsboro verdicts. The
following day 20,000 persons attending a rally in New York adopted a
resolution calling for the immediate release of the boys. Under ILD
auspices other mass meetings were held in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Omaha,
Sioux City, Kansas City, Boston, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New Haven, and
Elizabeth, New Jersey. All echoed the same message—free the Scottsboro
boys.10 Negro groups
swamped the ILD and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights, another
communist front, with requests for speakers on the Scottsboro cases.
These speakers informed them that the boys were innocent, the girls were
prostitutes, the courts were biased, and the defense had been inadequate.11
The organizations of Negro reform, the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the
Universal Negro Improvement Association, were chided on their silence by
the communists.12 However,
on April 24, a letter from William Pickens, field secretary of the NAACP,
was reprinted on page one of the Daily Worker. Writing on the stationery
of his organization, Pickens praised the efforts of the ILD in the
Scottsboro affair. “This is one occasion for every Negro who has
intelligence enough to read, to send aid to you [the Daily Worker]
and to LL.D.”13 Finally, it
appeared as if a united movement was gathering in support of the ILD and
the Scottsboro defendants.
The same day that
Pickens’ letter appeared in the Worker, the New York Times
reported that the Scottsboro boys did not want communist help. The eight
who were sentenced to die issued a statement to Stephen Roddy, two Negro
ministers, and a former truant officer, all of Chattanooga. The
youngsters, some of whom were illiterate, condemned the ILD and urged the
communists “to lay off.”14
But the following day Mamie Williams, Ada Wright, and Claude Patterson,
parents of three of the boys, solicited support for the ILD. They
declared they had rejected the plea of some ministers that they repudiate
the communists. Further, the parents reported that they had never been
consulted about having Roddy represent their boys as defense counsel, and
they denounced the ministers for sending Roddy to the Birmingham jail to
entice their children into an attack upon the ILD. Some of the parents
rushed to Birmingham to consult with their children, and one day after
their first statement, all of the Scottsboro boys reversed themselves and
paid tribute to the ILD.15
Communist hopes to
monopolize the Scottsboro cases shattered, however, when on May 1, 1931,
the NAACP announced that it had entered the cases and planned to manage
the defense of the boys.16
Mutual denunciations by the ILD and the NAACP were precipitated by this
unexpected statement of interest in the defense by the less radical Negro
body. Both the NAACP and the ILD hoped to banish the other group from the
cases as each organization coveted exclusive control of the defense. The
NAACP had many advantages over its communist rival.
While the ILD was a
novice in the field of Negro rights, the NAACP had twenty years
experience. While the ILD was dominated by communists, the NAACP
leadership was liberal and reformist. While the ILD demonstrated concern
for the Scottsboro boys with telegrams and ultimatums, the NAACP had
demonstrated greater concern earlier. This, at least, was the claim of
the NAACP, and it was not to be dismissed lightly. The NAACP, since its
inception in 1909, had fought many court battles under the banner of Negro
rights. One pertinent instance was the Arkansas riot case (1926), which
culminated in a United States Supreme Court ruling that a trial dominated
by mob atmosphere is not a trial at all and is, therefore, a violation of
due process of law. No Negro organization in America had the power,
ability, and respectability of the NAACP. It was the accepted watchtower
of Negro rights.
The NAACP maintained
that it was the initial defender in the Scottsboro cases. According to
Walter White, secretary of the organization, upon news of the arrests near
Scottsboro, a number of Negro ministers in Chattanooga, along with the
local chapter of the NAACP, stirred to action. Aware of the hostile
feelings in Scottsboro, they feared that a Negro lawyer sent to defend the
black youths would be ineffective, at best, in saving the lives of the
defendants; at worst, ineffective in saving his own life. These Negro
leaders asked a white attorney, Stephen Roddy, to represent them in
Scottsboro. From this perspective, it was the ILD and not the NAACP that
was interloping in the Scottsboro cases.17
There followed a
scramble for signatures; both the ILD and the NAACP attempted to persuade
the parents and sons that their respective organizations alone should
govern the defense. Liberals supporting the NAACP soon charged that the
ILD had hidden the parents of the Scottsboro youths to prevent the NAACP
from presenting its views to them.18
Yet, The Crisis, organ of the Negro reform group, recorded
in May, 1931, that one of its secretaries simply failed to convince the
parents that they should engage the NAACP.19
Others of the “hidden” parents, Ada Wright, Josephine
Powell, and Janie Patterson, were appearing at mass rallies in the East to
gain support for their sons and the ILD. Some even attended NAACP
convocations where the reform leaders denied them the privilege of
speaking.20 The ILD
asserted that the NAACP, failing to ensnare the parents, had attempted to
influence the accused—minors, ignorant of many issues in the cases.21
The communists blamed the NAACP for the earlier visit of
Roddy to the prison to “trap” the boys into signing a statement that they
could not read and was not read to them.22
Fighting within the
defense ranks continued. The City Interdenominational Ministers’ Alliance
of Negro Divines of Chattanooga devoted its weekly broadcast to an assault
upon the ILD “for its activities on behalf of eight Negro youths. . . .”
The Alliance warned that communists posed a threat to the “peace and
harmony” existing in the South. In addition, cautioned the ministers, the
ILD’s objective was to win Negroes to the Red cause.23
Similar was the official NAACP analysis. According to its
view, the aim of the ILD was to use the Scottsboro cases to spread
revolutionary propaganda and to weaken and destroy the NAACP.24
It chastised the communists for being too narrow to see the superiority of
If the Communistic
leadership in the United States had been broadminded and far-sighted, it
would have acknowledged frankly that the honesty, earnestness and
intelligence of the NAACP during twenty years of desperate struggle proved
this organization under present circumstances to be the only one, and its
methods the only methods available, to defend these boys.25
Although much of the
energy of the communists was absorbed in portraying the innocence of the
Scottsboro boys to the public, they could not ignore the charges directed
against them by the NAACP and its allies. In rebuttal, the communists
first reviewed the past. Either Stephen Roddy was or was not employed by
the Chattanooga Ministers’ Alliance and the NAACP. The
claimed that Roddy received $50.80 for his services, while Arthur Hays
placed the figure at “about $100.”26
But in discourse with Judge Hawkins, Roddy denied that he
was employed as counsel. The communists also questioned the quality of
the services rendered by Roddy. Carol Weiss King, a civil rights attorney
who assisted the ILD, described the defense as “half-hearted, or at least
At no time before the trials did Roddy interview his clients. He finally
talked to them in the courtroom, immediately before the trials began.
Although Roddy admitted he was unprepared for the task, he at no time
asked for a postponement so that he might prepare. At none of the trials
did he bother to summarize the case of the defendants.28
Finally, there was an at· tempt at compromise between Roddy
and the prosecution that would have meant life imprisonment for the boys.29
In the eyes of the ILD, Roddy’s was no defense at all.
Thus, to the NAACP
contention that it was the first and most effective defender of the
Scottsboro boys, the ILD retorted that if the NAACP were first, it was
horribly ineffective; and if it were not first, why was it intruding upon
the ILD? If the Roddy defense were the best the NAACP could provide, it
should surrender the cases to those who might do better. If the NAACP
were not responsible for the Roddy defense, why did it claim to be? Could
the communists, once they had entered the cases, withdraw in favor of an
organization that claimed responsibility, rightly or wrongly, for a
completely inadequate defense?30
Although only ILD
counsel was present for hearings on May 6 and May 20, on June 5, 1931,
Scottsboro became a mecca for various attorneys.31
Joseph R. Brodsky, ILD lawyer, obtained signed statements
from the nine youths authorizing him and George Chamlee to act as their
counsel.32 Roddy, who also
appeared, announced he was happy “he did not represent any New York
organization.”33 To this
the NAACP made no comment. On June 23, the Jackson County Circuit Court
denied the defense motion for a new trial and the attorneys for the boys
filed notice of appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.34
By early summer,
1931, the ILD, with the approval of the defendants, seemed to be in charge
of the Scottsboro cases. But the NAACP was unwilling to capitulate, and it
prepared a new offensive to gain control of the defense. In accord with
changed NAACP policy, Walter White and William Pickens, organization
secretaries, revealed that the Scottsboro youths had indeed been
“railroaded” at their trials.35
This completely contradicted Roddy. Therefore, in appraising the
past trials of the lads, the outlooks of the ILD and the NAACP converged.
Notwithstanding the acceptance by the NAACP of the communist
interpretation of the first trials, the NAACP was not planning to accept
communist leadership in the Scottsboro cases.
The principal issue
separating the two organizations was no longer the Roddy defense, but the
role ascribed to mounting extra-legal activities. The ILD, like the
NAACP, believed in providing a good defense in the courtroom; but the ILD
believed more should be done. Rallies, demonstrations, and telegrams, or
as the polemicists phrased it, “mass pressure,” were equally essential if
the courts were to free the Scottsboro boys. Committees in the United
States and abroad emerged devoted to the liberation of the Scottsboro
youngsters. Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Theodore Dreiser, Lion
Feuchtwanger, Lincoln Steffens, John Dos Passos, and Suzanne LaFollette
were all prominent in this effort.36
By July 7, 1931, Montgomery, Alabama, had received nearly
1,700 protests.37 Rallies
and riots on behalf of the Scottsboro boys spread to Leipzig, Havana, the
South, the world.38
The NAACP chose to
do battle next with the ILD over the issue of mass action. “If the
Communists want these lads murdered, then their antics of threatening
judges and yelling for mass action. . . is calculated to insure this,”
editorialized DuBois.39 The
NAACP singled out a particular Red protest rally for special criticism.
On July 17 at Camp Hill, Alabama, Negro sharecroppers met at a church to
discuss the Scottsboro affair, but sheriffs’ guns closed the meeting.
Some were killed, others wounded, and the church was burned. The NAACP
viewed the incident as proof of the failure of communist tactics:
. . . black
sharecroppers, half-starved and desperate, were organized . . . and then
induced to meet and protest against Scottsboro. . . . If this was
instigated by Communists, it is too despicable for words; not because the
plight of the black peons does not shriek for remedy but because this is
no time to bedevil a delicate situation by dragging a red herring across
the trail of eight innocent children.40
However, while the
NAACP aligned itself with the upholders of the law of Alabama in
condemning communists (the Reds acknowledged instigating the rally) for
causing the disturbance, the journal of the National Urban League and
Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union placed blame on the
Alabama officials who smashed the protest meeting.41
Despite the NAACP
slurs on the communists and the ILD, it was George Chamlee of the ILD who,
on August 7, filed a bill of exceptions in the Scottsboro cases; and it
was he who asked for a change of venue to Birmingham in the case of the
youngest defendant, who had to be retried because of a hung jury.42
The NAACP hoped next
to stage a coup that would bring the prisoners back to their standard. On
September 14, it announced that Clarence Darrow had been retained by the
NAACP to defend the boys.43
Arthur Hays, attorney for the Civil Liberties Union, volunteered to serve
the NAACP with Darrow.44
The day following their arrival in Birmingham, they were greeted with a
telegram from the Scottsboro lads pleading with the famed counselors not
“to fight the ILD and make trouble for Mr. Chamlee just to help the
NAACP.”45 Instead, the boys
begged them to join with Chamlee and the communists. A conference was
arranged at which Darrow and Hays confronted Chamlee and ILD
representatives. The latter offered to allow the entrance of Hays and
Darrow on two conditions. “First, you must repudiate the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Secondly, the tactics
in the case must be left to the International Labor Defense.” Darrow,
opposed to ILD tactics, retorted with a counter proposal. All lawyers
involved would repudiate their respective organizations and work as an
independent force for the release of the Scottsboro youths.46
There could be little doubt as to which of these lawyers
would dominate the independent coalition. To the ILD, mass pressure was
essential to victory, while Darrow reasoned “it is idle to suppose that
the State of Alabama can be awed by threats or that such demonstrations
can have any effect, unless it is to injure the defendants.”47
Darrow had previously spurned the ILD’s offer to defend the
Scottsboro youths; it now rejected him.48
Darrow then dropped
the Scottsboro struggle, as did Hays.49
The NAACP, without support from parents, defendants, or lawyers,
officially withdrew from the cases on January 4, 1932.50
The NAACP then characterized the ILD as opportunist,
completely disinterested in the fate of the Scottsboro boys. The Reds
rebuffed America’s leading lawyer merely for the sake of spreading
propaganda through “mass action.” The ILD replied that Darrow was just
the latest tool whereby the NAACP hoped quietly to sacrifice the
defendants to “lynch courts.”51
The effects of the
mass protest movement were indicated in Montgomery, when on January 21,
1932, Negroes and whites jammed the chamber of the highest court in
Alabama and heard Chief Justice John C. Anderson announce that the jurists
would not be “bulldozed.” He deemed the resolutions and letters that
flooded the mails of the court highly improper.52
Not until March 24 did the State Supreme Court render its
verdict, and in each of the cases Anderson alone dissented.53
The majority found nothing incorrect in the speedy trials
and they viewed the National Guard as a bulwark against mob spirit.54
Anderson presented many reasons for his minority opinion: the trial
occurred during the height of hostility against the boys a few days after
the alleged crime; the presence of the military, which guarded the boys
from the first night in Scottsboro and escorted them back and forth to
Gadsden, was bound to have an effect upon the jury’s thinking; and the
efforts of the defense were “rather pro forma than zealous and
active.”55 Not for anyone
of these reasons alone would Anderson order a new trial, but when
considered conjointly, he discovered he could not uphold the verdicts of
the Scottsboro juries.56
sentences were affirmed by a six to one vote. Only in the case of Eugene
Williams did the outcome differ. Acknowledging that affidavits submitted
by the defense to prove the youth yet a juvenile might be false, the court
opined, “there is nothing in this case to prove their falsity.” Williams
was remanded for a new trial, and the others were set to die on May 13,
Although the ILD had
succeeded in winning a new trial for one of the boys, the future for the
other seven looked bleak. The
lamented that without a violation of the federal Constitution, a murder
case could not be appealed from the state to the federal courts. Because
the cases concerned no question of constitutional law, the United States
Supreme Court had refused to review the rulings on Sacco, Vanzetti, and
Tom Mooney. Unless the ILD could demonstrate a violation of the
Constitution, the Supreme Court would remain indifferent to the Scottsboro
boys, also. Because of the similarity between the Scottsboro and the
Arkansas riot cases, however, the
held a faint hope of an appeal to the highest court.58
As the date of
execution approached, public agitation intensified. The Berlin Committee
for Saving the Scottsboro Victims wired President Hoover and Governor
Miller of Alabama urging pardon for the Negroes. On April 7, a mob in
Havana stoned the windows of an American bank, denounced Yankee
imperialism, and demanded the freedom of the Scottsboro defendants. In
response to foreign protests, the State Department in Washington asked
Governor Miller for a statement of facts in the cases. American
consulates abroad had requested the information in order to dispel the
“misconception of the circumstances” in the cases.59
When the United
States Supreme Court agreed to hear the Scottsboro cases, the executions
were suspended. On election eve, 1932, the tribunal’s decision on the
cases was announced. Writing for the majority, Justice Sutherland chose to
consider all of the cases as one. He observed that there were three
contentions of the defense in support of its proposition that the
defendants had been denied due process of law:
(1) they were not
given a fair, impartial and deliberate trial; (2.) they were denied the
right of counsel, with the accustomed incidents of consultation and
opportunity of preparation for trial; and (3) they were tried before
juries from which qualified members of their own race were systematically
excluded. . . .
The only one of the
assignments which we shall consider is the second, in respect of the
denial of counsel; . . . .60
continued that at no time were the boys asked if they wanted counsel
appointed. No one asked them if their parents or friends might hire
attorneys. “That it would not have been an idle ceremony to give the
defendants reasonable opportunity to obtain counsel is demonstrated by the
fact that, very soon after conviction, able counsel appeared in their
quoted from the court record where Roddy admitted that he was unprepared
for the trial, unknown to the defendants, and unfamiliar with the
procedure in Alabama. The appointment of the whole Scottsboro bar to
defend the boys prior to the entrance of Roddy was designated as an
“expansive gesture” on the part of Judge Hawkins; the appointment of the
entire bar gave responsibility to so many that it gave it to none.
Furthermore, Sutherland disclosed that one of the leading members of the
bar had accepted employment on the side of the prosecution. Therefore,
concluded the majority opinion, because the prisoners had been deprived of
counsel in the significant pre-trial period, the period in which
preparations for trial are made, the Scottsboro boys, even with lawyers at
the moment of trial, were effectively deprived of counsel.62
Justice Butler proclaimed that the defendants had been adequately
represented by counsel. He noted that if defense counsel had lacked time
to prepare for the cases, it would have requested postponement. But this
was not done.
There was no
suggestion, at the trial or in the motion for a new trial which they made,
that Mr. Roddy or Mr. Moody was denied such opportunity or that they were
not in fact fully prepared. The amended motion for new trial, by counsel
who succeeded them contains the first suggestion that defendants were
denied counselor opportunity to prepare for trial. But neither Mr. Roddy
nor Mr. Moody has given any support to this claim. Their silence requires
a finding that the claim is ground for, if it had any merit, they would be
found to support it.63
the original attorneys for their defense and remarked that no mob hysteria
existed at Scottsboro. For these reasons Justices Butler and McReynolds
upheld the convictions of the Scottsboro boys.
The majority ruling
was, in the words of Felix Frankfurter, “the first application of the
limitations of the [fourteenth] amendment to a state criminal trial.”64
ruling, whatever its significance to the legal profession, was momentous
to the ILD-NAACP dispute. The ILD appealed the cases on three grounds—mob
atmosphere, denial of counsel, and exclusion of Negroes from the jury.
Although one cannot state with certainty what the NAACP would have done
had it governed the defense, one may speculate with a certain
probability. The NAACP would have stressed the first point, attempting to
demonstrate similarity between the Scottsboro and the Arkansas riot
cases. This was the path suggested by Roddy, the
and, the day after the decision of the Supreme Court, by Walter White:
Association for the Advancement of Colored People is elated at the Supreme
Court’s decision granting a new trial in the Scottsboro cases. We are
specially gratified that the decision reaffirms the principle and
precedent established in a previous case, the Arkansas riot cases . . .,
carried to the Supreme Court by this association, in which it was ruled
that a court dominated by a mob is not due process of law.65
The high court did
no such thing. Not only did Justices Butler and McReynolds deny that mob
domination of the trials existed, but the majority also observed, “It does
not sufficiently appear that the defendants were seriously threatened
with, or that they were actually in danger of mob violence. . . .”66
An appeal based merely upon the town’s hostility to the defendants, then,
probably would have failed in persuading the Supreme Court to overturn the
convictions of the youngsters.
The third ground of
appeal, regarding exclusion of Negroes from the juries, evoked no comment
from the high tribunal. Therefore, if the NAACP had managed the defense
and if it had appealed the cases employing this contention, it would be
impossible to state the outcome in the Court. However, it is not
impossible to ask if the NAACP would have made such a contention in
appealing the cases. In its twenty-year history it had not done so. When
the issue finally came before the Supreme Court, the ILD, not the NAACP,
presented the arguments that ended, in theory, Negro exclusion from
Only on the second
point did the Supreme Court rule in favor of the Scottsboro boys, the
claim that the youths had been denied effective counsel. It is doubtful,
if the NAACP had supervised the cases, that the reform organization would
have offered such an argument. For months the NAACP had claimed
responsibility for the defense cited as inadequate by the Court—the NAACP
had employed Roddy. Hardly could the Association have informed the
Supreme Court that the counsel it had provided was the equivalent of
denial of effective counsel. In fact, the position of the Court’s
minority in upholding the Scottsboro verdicts was simply a paraphrase of
earlier NAACP claims. The Communist Party stated, with justification,
that not only had the ILD won a new trial, but that an NAACP defense would
have resulted in the execution of the Scottsboro defendants.67
There were many more
trials of the Scottsboro boys before an inconclusive denouement was to be
achieved. Mass action in favor of the defendants continued, with songs,
plays, poems, sports events, parades and a march on Washington devoted to
their cause. It was the first time such widespread mass efforts had been
staged on behalf of Negro rights, and the NAACP opposed them. Authorities
criticize the communists for their mass campaign of the 1930’s, but the
times and the Negroes are changing.
This paper began by
noting the caricature of communists as held by many liberals and as
reinforced by American scholarship. On closer inspection, allegations by
DuBois, White, Hughes, Hoover, Nolan, Record, et al., that the
Scottsboro case was an example of Red perfidy proves inaccurate—false.
The communists did not attempt to make martyrs of the Scottsboro boys.
Instead, through the ILD, the Communist Party saved the lads from a
bungling defense and initiated a mass movement on behalf of the Negroes.
Of course, there are other charges against the communists originating from
their efforts in the Scottsboro cases—the ILD attorneys were incompetent,
the Party stole millions intended for the defense of the boys, it betrayed
one of the boys to the FBI after he had escaped from Alabama. Though
these charges are as untenable as the one related in this article, lack of
space precludes a detailed refutation.68
The Communist Party
may or may not be villainous, but there is no evidence of its villainy in
the Scottsboro cases. On the contrary, it saved the lives of nine young
boys and opened new avenues of protest to Negroes.
J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: A Study of Communism in America and
How to Fight It (New York, 1958), p. 252; W. E. B. DuBois, Dusk at
Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New York,
1940), pp. 297-98. DuBois wrote this before his conversion to communism.
Langston Hughes, Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (New
York, 1962), p. 87. Hughes wrote this after he had praised the communists
for their efforts on behalf of the Scottsboro boys many times in poems and
Walter White, How Far the Promised Land? (New York, 1955), p. 215.
Arthur Garfield Hays, Trial by Prejudice (2nd ed., New York, 1935),
W. Ford and Anna Damon, “Scottsboro in the Light of Building the Negro
People’s Front,” The Communist, X (September, 1937), 841; Wilson
Record, The Negro and the Communist Party (Chapel Hill, 1951), p.
34; William A. Nolan, Communism Versus the Negro (Chicago, 1951),
April 2, 7, 1931; New York Times, April 9, 1931.
April 9, 10, 1931.
Edmund Wilson, “The Freight-Car Case,”
LXVIII (August 26, 1931), 41; Walter White, “The Negro and the
Communists,” Harper’s Magazine, CLXIV (December, 1931), 66; Hays,
op. cit., p. 85; “A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. on the Scottsboro Cases,”
The Crisis, XXXIX (March, 1932), 82.
Wilson, op. cit., p. 41.
April 13, 14, 15, 1931.
Ibid., April 21, 1931.
Ibid., April 22, 1931.
Ibid., April 24, 1931.
New York Times, April 24, 1931.
Ibid., May 5, 1931.
White, op. cit., 64; “A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. . . . ,” op. cit.,
82; “Correspondence: The Scottsboro Rape Case,” New Republic, XLVII
(June 24, 1931), 864. The latter contains a letter from Herbert J.
Seligman, then Director of Publicity for the NAACP.
Wilson, op. cit., 42.
“A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. . . . , op. cit., p. 82.
Files Crenshaw, Jr., and Kenneth A. Miller, Scottsboro: The Firebrand
of Communism (Montgomery, Alabama: Press of the Brown Printing
Company, 1936), p. 56. For a description of an ILD rally at which Mrs.
Patterson appeared, see New York Times, April 26. 1931.
June 29, July 6, 1931.
Wilson, op. cit., p. 42.
New York Times, May 24, 1931.
“A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. . . . , op. cit., p. 82.
W. E. B. DuBois, “Postscript,” The Crisis, XXXVIII (September,
Wilson, op. cit., p. 40; Hays, op. cit., p. 85.
Carol Weiss King, “Correspondence: The Scottsboro Case,” New Republic,
LXVII (June 24, 1931), 155.
Ibid., pp. 155-56; King, “Correspondence: The Scottsboro Case,”
The Nation, CXXXIII (July 1, 1931), 16.
Crenshaw and Miller, op. cit., p. 17;
November 16, 1931.
May 5, 1931.
Ibid., May 23, 1931.
New York Times, June 6, 1931.
King, “Correspondence,” New Republic, op. cit., 155; King,
“Correspondence,” The Nation, op. cit.,16.
Crenshaw and Miller, op. cit., p. 57.
New York Times, June 29, 1931.
Ibid., July 5, 1931;
May 20, 1931.
Crenshaw and Miller, op. cit., p, 57.
New York Times, July 1, 8, 12, 1931;
June 2, 1931. A German youth was killed in Chemnitz while protesting on
behalf of the Scottsboro boys; see New York Daily Worker, December
DuBois, “Postscript,” op. cit., p. 313.
Ibid., p. 314.
“Communism and the Negro Tenant Farmer,”
IX (August. 1931), 36; New York Times, July 19, 1931.
New York Times, August 8, 1931.
Ibid., September 15. 1931.
“A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. . . . ,” op. cit., p. 82.
As quoted in Hays, op. cit., p.
Ibid., p. 88; Clarence Darrow, “Scottsboro,” The Crisis,
XXXIX (March, 1932), 81; “A Statement by the N.A.A.C.P. .. . .” op. cit.,
Darrow, op. cit., p. 81.
New York Times, December 30, 1931.
Ibid., January 5, 1932.
P. Levy. “Correspondence: Scottsboro and the I.L.D . . . . New Republic,
LXIX (January 20, 1932), 273; Robert Minor. “The Negro and His Judases,”
The Communist, X (July 1931) 632 ff; James W. Ford and James S.
Allen, The Negroes in a Soviet
(New York, 1935), p.
Crenshaw and Miller, op. cit., p. 64.
Hays, op. cit., p. 92; New York Times, March 25, 1932.
Hays, op. cit., p. 92; New York Times, March 25. 1932.
Hays, op. cit., p. 98.
New York Times, March 25, 1932.
“Legal Murder in Alabama,” New Republic, LXX (April 6, 1932), 194.
March 27, 31, April 9, 16, 1932.
Powell v. State of Alabama,
287 U.S. 50 (1932).
Ibid., p. 52.
Ibid., pp. 53-58.
Ibid., p. 76.
New York Times, November 13, 1932.
Ibid., November 8, 1932.
Powell v. State of
287 U.S. 51 (1932).
New York Daily
August 9, 1933.
Hugh Murray, Jr., “The Scottsboro Rape
Case and the Communist Party” (Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Tulane
University, 1963), p. 220 ff.
Posted March 14,