The Scottsboro Trials, Brown v. Mississippi, and trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
The purpose of this essay is to compare three very similar cases, the Scottsboro Trials, Brown v. Mississippi, and the fictional trial of Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; and to prove why the defendant of the third trial never had a chance. Each took place in the rural South in the 1920’s and 30’s and involved the unfair conviction of young black males by all-white juries pressured by the threat of mob violence. Each lacked the evidence sufficient for conviction, most especially for the death penalty. Last, heroes emerged from each trial and made small but solid steps towards equal justice for all.
“ROOSEVELT IS ASKED TO INTERVENE TO PROTECT SCOTTSBORO NEGROES: Warning of 'Massacre' of Seven Prisoners and Their Lawyers at Decatur (Ala.) Court Today, Defense Counsel Wire President a Plea to Obtain State Troops” (Linder), reads a headline from the New York Times on November 20, 1933. The nine Scottsboro boys accused of rape and their attorneys were scared to death, but the government did not seem to acknowledge their danger. The article also mentions Patterson’s previous trial where “Circuit Judge Horton, presiding, took judicial notice of incipient mob action to lynch defendants and attorneys by ordering soldiers in open court to shoot if necessary to preserve the peace” (Linder).
On March 25, 1931, Victoria Price, a known prostitute, and Ruby Bates accused nine Negroes of raping them on a train in Northern Alabama. The trial took place in Scottsboro, amid much anti-black sentiment. An all white jury sentenced eight of the nine to death, despite the fact that one was blind and one could hardly walk on his own. It is also rather suspicious that there was no solid medical evidence. Ms. Price had conveniently washed her step-ins and though six men allegedly raped her, not a one got any semen on her coat. The Supreme Court granted the “Scottsboro boys” new trials on the grounds that they did not receive adequate legal counsel. In this second round of trials, presided by Judge James E. Horton, Ruby Bates denied that she or Victoria Price had ever been raped (To Kill a Mockingbird: Then and Now).
The hero in this case was Judge Horton. Despite public opinion in the region, Horton overturned the conviction of the jury, an unprecedented act. He wrote a thoughtful essay of the improbability of the crime and examined what evidence should have resulted from it. Very little of this expected evidence actually appeared and thus Judge Horton declared:
It is therefore ordered and adjudged by the Court that the motion
be granted; that the verdict of the jury in this case and the judgment
of the Court sentencing this defendant to death be, and the same
hereby is, set aside and that a new trial be and the same is hereby
ordered. (To Kill a Mockingbird: Then...