People & Events: Leroy "Roy" Wright, 1918 - 1959
"They whipped me and it seemed like they was going to kill me. All the time they kept saying, "now will you tell?" and finally it seemed like I couldn't stand no more and I said yes. Then I went back into the courtroom and they put me up on the chair in front of the judge and began asking a lot of questions, and I said I had seen Charlie Weems and Clarence Norris with the white girls."
-- Roy Wright, to New York Times reporter Raymond Daniell, March 10, 1933
Roy Wright was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When he was thirteen, he left home for the first time, to look for work with his older brother Andy, and their friends Haywood Patterson and Eugene Williams. He was arrested, along with eight other African American teenagers, on that trip. The youngest of the Scottsboro defendants, Roy Wright was interviewed by the New York Times while he awaited his trial in juvenile court.
At the initial trial, Roy testified that he had seen some of the other defendants rape the two girls, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. Later, he claimed that that testimony had been coerced. His own trial ended in a hung jury, with 11 jurors seeking a death sentence and one voting for life imprisonment.
That was the only trial Roy had, and he spent the next six years in jail. He was in the car in transport to Birmingham Jail, and handcuffed to Ozie Powell when Powell slashed a deputy with a knife and was shot in return.
In January 1937, at the age of 19, he told a visitor, "If I have to spend more than one or two years longer, I just as well spend the rest of my life. If I was an old man perhaps I wouldn't mind it so much but that's what's against me; I'm young and innocent of the crime." He also complained: "I was put in solitary confinement in January 1936 and got fresh air once out of the thirteen months and that was last Friday. Some may count it a year but I count it thirteen months."
He liked to read, and kept a Bible with him always (he felt that pulp magazines with stories about others' pleasure would drive him crazy while he was in jail). Later that year, Life magazine described Roy as the "youngest and smartest of the Boys."
In July 1937 Roy was released with three of the other defendants. The quartet joined the vaudeville circuit, but were soon disillusioned with their fees. After breaking with their manager, Roy and Olen Montgomery went on a two and a half month tour organized by the Scottsboro Defense Committee, speaking in more than 40 cities to raise money and awareness for his brother Andy and the others still in jail.
After the tour, Roy found a sponsor in Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the well-known African American entertainer, who offered to pay for Roy's education at a vocational school. After school, Wright served in the army, joined the merchant marine, and married.
In 1959, returning home from a tour at sea, Roy found his wife at the home of another man. In a fit of jealous rage, he killed her and then returned to his apartment, and his Bible, and shot himself.