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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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Behind the Scenes: Question 4

Tom Hurwitz
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Did that inspire you to dig deeper into this story?

The next part of the story has to do with what happened in Decatur, Alabama. We also - the film also went to Decatur but there wasn't anywhere nearly the same kind of coincidence with my father there. But he had actually shot some footage. He claims he shot footage in the courtroom. He also shot footage of the boys being taken - the Scottsboro boys being taken in and out of the courtroom and of the National Guard arrayed around the courthouse. This footage must have been used as part of an attempt to raise money for the Scottsboro boys by the International Labor Defense and he says, in his own oral history, that he had been approached personally by the International Labor Defense to make this film and they had done it in connection with the Worker's Film and Photo League. I can only imagine that the film was taken around by individual relatives of the Scottsboro boys or - and organizers for the I.L.D. and shown to parties and fundraising events and all kinds of political things to raise money for the - the I.L.D. raised thousands and thousands of dollars for this defense and to pay the lawyers. But Danny searched and searched and searched and could not come up with this film. And he tried in Europe, in the French Cinemateque, which is often a repository of American documentaries that get away from America as well as - of course, he's searched all the American archives and the archives of various left-wing libraries. Couldn't find anything. He went to Russia and searched the archives of the Soviet Union and couldn't find anything. He tried searching for "Scottsboro", he tried searching for "African American", he tried searching for "black American", he tried searching for - he tried everything and then when he finally had almost given up hope, he said, wait a second. Why am I being so politically correct? And he went back and he searched under the word "Negro" and bing, up came some footage of the Scottsboro boys. And in fact, at that time, in the Soviet Union, the word "negro" was synonymous with Scottsboro boys. When the Russians thought about the American negro, they thought about Scottsboro boys because that was the international Communist movement's rallying cry at the time in terms of America and black America.

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