It took eight decades, but the last three of the so-called Scottsboro Boys have been officially exonerated in the eyes of the law.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles recently cleared the names — posthumously — of Haywood Patterson, Charles Weems, and Andy Wright. They were among nine African-American men who were unjustly convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women in a series of show trials in 1931 and 1933.
The trials inflamed America at a time when the second-class citizenship of black people was enshrined by law and tradition. The initial accusation by two white women was enough to elicit the death penalty for eight of the nine defendants — even though one of the accusers later recanted.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the death sentences and ordered new trials. Rape charges were ultimately dropped against five of the nine in 1937, but Clarence Norris, Mr. Weems, and Mr. Patterson were convicted of the charges again. Mr. Wright’s trial ended in a hung jury.
Mr. Norris was pardoned in 1976 by Gov. George Wallace. The men who were pardoned last week were eventually released on parole, after decades in prison. Their ultimate exoneration came after their deaths, when Alabama justice was finally delivered.