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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy






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Teacher's Guide: Hints for the Active Learning Questions

History
1. Diary entries should reflect an awareness of the various likely reactions to the trial. For example, the Bates/Price diary might reflect feelings of guilt or fear; the defendant's diary might reflect anger or resignation; the juror's diary might reflect anger or satisfaction.

2a. It describes the extreme poverty in which one of the defendants (Eugene Williams) grew up, his young age at the time of his arrest, and his difficulties in prison.

2b. The story in the African American newspaper is sympathetic to the accused, while the New York Times stories appear more neutral; the story in the African American newspaper also focuses more on the feelings of the persons involved.

3. Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams, and Roy Wright were freed in 1937 after charges against them were dropped; they had spent six years in prison. Of the five Scottsboro defendants to be convicted, Charles Weems was paroled in 1943, Ozie Powell and Clarence Norris were paroled in 1946 (Norris was declared "not guilty" in 1976), Haywood Patterson escaped from prison in 1948 (but was jailed later on an unrelated charge), and Andrew Wright was paroled in 1950.

Economics
1a. Both were white; both were young (17 and 21, respectively) and poor; both had worked in the mills of Huntsville, Alabama; Price might have been a prostitute.

1b. The defendants were African American teenagers; they had received little if any education; some had IQs far below normal; all were poor.

1c. The accusers' low status might have helped cause them to make the charge of rape as a way of separating themselves from the black youths who also were on the train. The defendants' lack of wealth or education made it more difficult for them to defend themselves. In addition, neither group of persons probably would have been on the train if they had not been poor.

2a. The I.L.D. was the legal arm of the American Communist Party.

2b. It showed that the ruling (white) class in the South was continuing to oppress disadvantaged African Americans.

Geography
1. Scottsboro was the location of the first of the trials.

2. The crime, which usually is committed secretly, was allegedly committed on an open train car as that train moved through several populated areas.

Civics
1a. It is the right to have an attorney represent you. The defendants were not asked if they wanted to appoint their own lawyer or given a chance to do so; only at the last minute was a lawyer assigned to defend them.

1b. No one could recall ever seeing a black serve on a jury in that county. It meant that blacks always would be judged by all-white juries, rather than by a jury of their peers.

2. Some students may argue that these decisions should be based on competence alone and should not consider any possible jury prejudice against an outside lawyer or organization. Other students may argue that the top priority is gaining a fair trial for the defendants, and that nothing should be done that might encourage the jury to behave unfairly.



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