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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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People & Events: Andrew Wright, 1912-?

"Mr. White, if you can't trust your mother, who can you trust?"
-- Andrew Wright to the NAACP executive secretary, August 1931

On March 25, 1931, Andy Wright left his native Chattanooga on a Southern Railroad freight train headed for Alabama, accompanied by his younger brother Roy and two friends, Haywood Patterson and Eugene Williams. All four of the African American teenagers were pulled off the train and arrested at Paint Rock, Alabama, after allegedly participating in a rape of two young women who were white. Andy was 19 at the time, and had had enough schooling that he could read and write a bit.

With the other teenagers arrested on the train, he was convicted in 1931. In the ensuing struggle between the NAACP and the International Labor Defense for control of the legal appeal, the I.L.D. acted swiftly in securing the trust and support of the defendants (who nevertheless vacillated) and their parents and legal guardians. It was the support of their parents that led most of the defendants to put their trust in the I.L.D.

In 1937 Andy Wright was sentenced to 99 years in jail for rape. He wrote a letter to the Scottsboro Defense Committee expressing concern that he and four of the other defendants had had their freedom traded for the four released that year. In Kilby Prison in Montgomery, Alabama, he was assaulted by both guards and prisoners, and spent time in the prison hospital. His continually poor health made it difficult for him to work in the prison industries and further antagonized his tormentors. Wright narrowly escaped an attack when Charley Weems took his shift at the prison mill and received knife wounds intended for Andy.

As bad as the physical punishment was, the psychic punishment may have been worse. By independent accounts, Wright was a good-natured prisoner, but he wrote: "A colored convict's very best behavior is not good enough for these officials here. Every time they open their mouths it is [']you black bastard.['] When we think we are doing right we be cursed at and kick around and beat like dogs."

In 1939 he wrote: "I am trying all that in my power to be brave but you understand a person can be brave for a certain length of time and then he is a coward down. That the way it is." When advised to "snap out" of his depressed state, he wrote: "What do you think I am a iron man[?] You all is out there w[h]ere you can do for yourself and get things done and then have a nerve to write and tell me to cheer up."

In November 1943, Wright received parole and was sent to work near Montgomery. The work the parole board had found seemed no better than prison to Andy, and he fled north. Allan Knight Chalmers, the chairman of the S.D.C., persuaded him to return south, in part so that Patterson and Powell's parole hearings might have more favorable results. When Wright returned, he was imprisoned despite promises of leniency.

In May 1950, Wright was paroled again, and Chalmers found a job for him in an Albany hospital. When asked about Victoria Price upon his release, Andy said: "I'm not mad because the girl lied about me. If she's still living, I feel sorry for her because I don't guess she sleeps much at night." He was the last Scottsboro defendant to leave jail.

In Albany the next year, Wright was accused of rape for a second time. A former girlfriend accused him of raping her thirteen-year-old foster daughter. Wright claimed he had merely bought a present for the girl and detectives hired by the NAACP confirmed his story. An all-white jury acquitted him after he spent another eight months in jail. His involvement in the Scottsboro case undoubtedly loaned credence to the woman's accusations. "Everywhere I go, it seems like Scottsboro is throwed up in my face. I don't believe I'll ever live it down," he lamented.

Andy Wright's run of bad luck continued: in subsequent years, he found little work in Albany, Cleveland or New York City. In a fight with his wife, he stabbed her; she didn't press charges, but he was forced to leave Albany for good and he settled in Connecticut.

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