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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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Primary Sources: Escape from Jail

Haywood Patterson described his escape from Kilby Prison in Scottsboro Boy, written with Earl Conrad and published while still a fugitive:

As I made up my mind to go I got several other convicts to see things the same way. I knew I didn't have a chance unless I used eight or nine for bait. It took a couple weeks to fix that.

We came in off the farm and checked in for dinner on July 17. I went straight to the laundry to get ready. I put the civilian suit on under my prison uniform. I didn't tell the other guys about that.

We were thinning rice at that time, working in the rice field. That was about five mile from the main prison, and maybe a quarter mile from the dog warden's house. The dog warden, he had three or four colored prisoners released to him. They helped him to train the dogs to catch humans. All through the day as we farmed we could view the dog warden's house that kept the fear in the guys' hearts.

I know the dog warden's habits about the dogs. Each evening when it got cool they put on a sham race to train the dogs how to get prisoners. The dog warden, he would get on a horse and ride behind the dogs. The convict dog boys ran behind the dogs. I knew what time they went off on these races. I told the others that when the dogs were in the woods on a sham race, that would give us a good gift to get away. Someone would have to overtake them, tell them of a break, and bring them back.

We worked until the sun was almost completely out of sight. We were somewhere on a river bottom. All in there it was high corn. The dog warden had taken off with the hounds. So I got all the boys together and said, "Let's go."

We hit for the woods.

Captain Nutley, he fired several shots.

I didn't run very far down the corn, just out of sight. I told the others, "Get going. Go fast."

I had a kid with me, and I wanted to hold him back with me. I needed him for a sacrifice.

Excerpt from Patterson, Haywood and Earl Conrad, Scottsboro Boy. New York: Doubleday, 1950.

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