[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Rollover text informationAmerican Experience Logo
Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

spacer above content
People & Events: Charles Weems, 1911 - ?

    Charles Weems"Please tell all the young mens to try hard and not to go to prison for my Sakes."
    -- April 1944

Charles Weems was a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee. His mother died in 1915, when he was only four, and six of his seven siblings died soon afterwards. His father then fell ill and sent him to live with an aunt in Riverdale, Georgia. He was on his way home to Tennessee when he was pulled from the Southern Railroad train. He was twenty years old and did not know any of the other 8 African American defendants.

After the initial Scottsboro trial, Weems was not tried again until July of 1937. Fellow defendants Clarence Norris and Andy Wright had just lost their cases and defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz, in a frustrated summation of Weems' case, told the jury that he no longer believed he could convince a white jury of a black defendant's innocence in a rape case. "I'm sick and tired of this sanctimonious hypocrisy. It isn't Charley Weems on trial in this case, it's a Jew lawyer and New York State put on trial here." Whoever was on trial, it was Weems who was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison.

While in prison, Weems was tear gassed in his cell for reading International Labor Defense literature, and he asked his correspondents not to mention any labor actions in Birmingham, Alabama. In October 1937, after some of his fellow defendants were released, Weems was in the prison hospital for tuberculosis. In March of the next year, in a case of mistaken identity, he was stabbed with a knife by the prison mill foreman.

He was paroled in November 1943, and was offered a job in a laundry in Atlanta. He married and settled down into obscurity, keeping his job and his health, although his eyes would persist in bothering him from the tear gas a decade earlier.

previous | return to people & events list | next
Site Navigation

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search & Site Map | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1999-2000 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: