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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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Primary Sources: Excerpts from the Transcript of Haywood Patterson's Second Trial

A dizzying range of viewpoints collided in the Scottsboro case, revealing deep fissures in the nation. Participants and observers made the case a public forum for black, white, male, female, Southern, Northern, urban, rural, Communist, and civil rights perspectives. These differing attitudes are clearly revealed in excerpts from the transcript of Alabama v. Patterson, the second Scottsboro trial, which was heard before Judge James Horton from March 27 - April 9, 1933.

From the summation of Wade Wright for the Prosecution:

"Show them, show them that Alabama justice cannot be bought an sold with Jew money from New York."

"It was Brodsky, too, who brought in Ruby Bates. The same Brodsky who put the fancy city clothes, New York clothes, on Lester Carter, and I tell you, gentlemen, the Ruby Bates was guilty of perjury right here in this court room. And there is such a thing as subornation of perjury. . . ."

"[Ruby Bates] couldn't tell you all the things that happened in New York because part of it was in the Jew language."

From the summation of Samuel Leibowitz for the Defense:

"Let us assume that the prosecution is prejudiced. Let us assume the defense is also prejudiced. Let us assume both sides are trying to prove their points."

"Now, I'm not going to assault your ears with any such ranting and raising the roof as you have been forced to hear from the gentleman seated over there. I shall appeal to your reason as logical, intelligent human beings, determined to give even this poor scrap of colored humanity a fair, square deal."

On Wright's summation: "What is it but an appeal to prejudice, to sectionalism, to bigotry. What he is saying is, 'come on boys! We can lick this Jew from New York! Stick it into him! We're among our home folk.' "

On "Jew money:" "Now, I'm not getting any fee in this case and I'm not getting a penny of expenses for myself and my wife, who was here with me... I'm interested solely in seeing that that poor moronic colored boy over there and his co-defendants in the other cases get a square shake of the dice, because I believe, before God, they are the victims of a dastardly frame-up. Mobs mean nothing to me. Let them take me out and hang me. My mission will have been served if I get these unfortunates the same justice that I would seek to achieve for any of you gentlemen if you came to New York and were unjustly accused."

From the summation of Thomas Knight, Jr. for the Prosecution:

"I do not want a verdict based on racial prejudice or a religious creed. I want a verdict based on the merits of this case. On that evidence, gentlemen, there can be but one verdict, and that verdict is death -- death in the electric chair for raping Victoria Price. . . ."

"If you acquit this Negro, put a garland of roses around his neck, give him a supper and send him to New York City. There let Dr. Harry Fosdick dress him up in a high hat and morning coat, gray striped trousers and spats. . . ."

"The State of Alabama has not framed that Negro.... I don't have to have people come down here and tell me the right thing to do. I'd nolle prosse the indictments if I thought these Negroes were innocent. This is no framed prosecution. It is a framed defense."

From Judge James E. Horton's instructions to the jury:

"She [Ruby Bates] admitted on the witness stand in this trial that she had perjured herself in the other case. In considering the evidence, you may consider not only her lack of virtue as admitted by her here, but also that she contradicted her previous testimony as perjured."

"Regarding Victoria Price, there has been evidence here that she also was a woman of easy virtue. There has been evidence tending to show that she gave false testimony about her movements and activities in Chattanooga. That evidence has not, except by her, been denied."

"If in your minds the conviction of this defendant depends on the testimony of Victoria Price and you are convinced she has not sworn truly about any material point, you could not convict this defendant..."

"Take the evidence, sift it out and find the truths and untruths and render your verdict. It will not be easy to keep your minds solely on the evidence. Much prejudice has crept into it. It has come not only from far away, but from here at home as well."

"I have done what I thought to be right as the judge of this court no matter what the personal cost to me might be..."

"There have been some statements in regard to whether or not some other person thinks this way or that, or whether or not public opinion is one way or the other."

"Gentlemen, that hasn't anything to do with it -- what outside opinion or public opinion is, or whether or not the ideas of somebody else may be one way or the other. No, gentlemen, we are not to consider that at any time."

"I know the juries of this county. I have been with them -- have been before them. They are sensible, reasonable, intelligent men. They do not go off on side issues, nor do they let petty prejudices enter into the trial of the case."

"You are not trying whether or not the defendant is white or black -- you are not trying that question; you are trying whether or not this defendant forcibly ravished a woman."

"You are not trying lawyers, you are not trying State lines; but you are here at home as jurors, a jury of your citizens under oath sitting in the jury box taking the evidence and considering it, leaving out any outside influences."

"Things may vex you. I might say that the court may have been vexed about a great many things. It may have been evident to you that a great many telegrams came in here to me since I have been here. But, gentlemen, they do not affect me whatever or the great principle which the court desires to see done, and that is to see justice done in this case..."

"Of course, gentlemen, we all love our land; that is a natural sentiment of all people. Not that we are narrow in it. Why, the man who lives in the mountains of Switzerland or on the coast of the Adriatic loves his land. It is a natural feeling and it is a fine thing for a man to do to love his native country."

"I might say that a great many of us, and I together with you, a great many of our forebears came here with the earliest settlers, and I happen to be descended from one who was the first that came down to this country. On both sides, as far back as I know, my people have always been a Southern people, and I have no desire to live anywhere else. I am getting old, and it is my home, my native land, and I want to see righteousness done and justice done, and we are going to uphold that name..."

From Judge Horton's opinion in granting a new trial, June 22, 1933:

This is the State's evidence. It corroborates Victoria Price slightly, if at all, and her evidence is so contradictory to the evidence of the doctors who examined her that it has been impossible for the Court to reconcile their evidence with hers.

... The time and place and stage of this alleged act are such to make one wonder and question did such occur under such circumstances. The day is a sunshiny day the latter part in March; the time of day is shortly after the noon hour. The place is upon a gondola or car without a top. This gondola, according to the evidence of Mr. Turner, the conductor, was filled to within six inches to twelve or fourteen inches of the top with chert, and according to Victoria Price up to one and one half feet or two feet of the top. The whole performance necessarily being in plain view of any one observing the train as it passed...

On top of this chert twelve negroes rape two white women; they undress them as they are standing up on this chert; the prosecuting witness then is thrown down and with one negro continuously kneeling over her with a knife at her throat, one or more holding her legs, six negroes successively have intercourse with her on top of that chert; as one arises off of her person, another lies down upon her; those not engaged are standing or sitting around; this continues without intermission although that freight train travels for some forty miles through the heart of Jackson County; through Fackler, Hollywood, Scottsboro, Larkinsville, Lin Rock, and Woodsville, slowing up in several of these places until it is halted at Paint Rock; Gilley, a white boy, pulled back on the train by the negroes, and sitting off, according to Victoria Price, in one end of the gondola, a witness to the whole scene; yet he stays on the train, and he does not attempt to get off of the car at any of the places it slows up to call for help; he does not go back to the caboose to report to the conductor or to the engineer in the engine, although no compulsion is being exercised on him, and instead of there being any threat of danger to him from the negroes, they themselves have pulled him back on the train to prevent his being injured from jumping from the train after it had increased its speed; and in the end by a fortuitous circumstance just before the train pulls into Paint Rock, the rapists cease and just in the nick of time the overalls are drawn up and fastened and the women appear clothed as the posse sights them. The natural inclination of the mind is to doubt and to seek further search.

Her manner of testifying and demeanor on the stand militate against her. Her testimony was contradictory, often evasive, and time and again she refused to answer pertinent questions. The gravity of the offense and the importance of her testimony demanded candor and sincerity. In addition to this the proof tends strongly to show that she knowingly testified falsely in many material aspects of the case. All this requires the more careful scrutiny of her evidence.

The Court has heretofore devoted itself particularly to the State's evidence; this evidence fails to corroborate Victoria Price in those physical facts; the condition of the woman raped necessarily speaking more powerfully than any witness can speak who did not view the performance itself.

...History, sacred and profane, and the common experience of mankind teach us that women of the character shown in this case are prone for selfish reasons to make false accusations both of rape and of insult upon the slightest provocation for ulterior purposes. These women are shown, by the great weight of the evidence, on this very day before leaving Chattanooga, to have falsely accused two negroes of insulting them, and of almost precipitating a fight between one of the white boys they were in company with and these two negroes. This tendency on the part of the women shows that they are predisposed to make false accusations upon any occasion whereby their selfish ends may be gained.

The Court will not pursue the evidence any further.

...It is therefore ordered and adjudged by the Court that the motion be granted; that the verdict of the jury in this case and the judgment of the Court sentencing this defendant to death be set aside and that a new trial be and the same is hereby ordered.

James E. Horton,
Circuit Judge

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