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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

%The film Scottsboro: An American Tragedy and this companion Web site offer insights into topics in American history including race relations, civil rights, the Depression, the Communist Party of the United States, and judicial due process. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1. Read the timeline of the Scottsboro cases. Then write three diary entries for the day in April 1931 on which the first group of Scottsboro defendants were sentenced to death. One entry should be from either Ruby Bates or Victoria Price, one should be from one of the defendants, and one should be from one of the jurors. In each diary entry, describe how you think that person might have felt after the trial.

2a. Read a news story of the Scottsboro casethat appeared in an African American newspaper in 1935. What topics does the story discuss?

2b. Read a few of the New York Times stories about the case. How does the story from the African American newspaper differ from the New York Times stories?

3. After consulting the Scottsboro timeline, list the nine Scottsboro defendants and explain how and when each man gained his freedom. How much time did the four men who were never tried spend in prison before their release?

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1a. Read the profiles of Ruby Bates and Victoria Price. Briefly describe the two women who accused the Scottsboro defendants of rape, especially their socio-economic background.

1b. Read the profiles of Olen Montgomery and other Scottsboro defendants. Briefly describe these young men, especially their socio-economic background.

1c. How might the socio-economic background of both the accusers and the defendants have helped shape the events of the case?

2a. Read the background on the International Labor Defense and the description of the I.L.D.'s role in the Scottsboro case. What was the link between the I.L.D. and the American Communist Party?

2b. According to the American Communist Party, how did the Scottsboro case demonstrate one of the evils of the American capitalist system?

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1. Draw or copy a map and label the major trial locations, using the map provided as a resource. Why was the controversy named after Scottsboro?

2. In the excerpts from Alabama v. Patterson, read the portions of Judge James Horton's opinion in granting a new trial. Explain why the location of the alleged crime helped cause the judge to doubt the women's testimony.

History | Economics | Geography | Civics

1a. Read the summaries of the two major Supreme Court cases in the Scottsboro affair, along with the excerpts available from the Court rulings in those two cases. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), the Court ruled that the Scottsboro defendants were denied the right to counsel, which violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. What is meant by the phrase "right to counsel"? According to the Court, how had the Scottsboro defendants been denied this right?

1b. In Norris v. Alabama (1935), the Court ruled that the exclusion of blacks from jury rolls deprived black defendants of their rights to equal protection under the law. What was the main evidence that blacks had been excluded from jury rolls? Why would this exclusion deprive black defendants of their rights to equal protection under the law?

2. Visit the online poll on whether different defense lawyers and funding sources might have produced a different outcome in the Scottsboro cases. After answering the poll questions and checking the poll's results to date, write a brief essay in which you explain your opinion on the following question: If you were advising the defendants, would you take the jury's potential prejudices into account in selecting a lawyer and a funding source, or would that only reinforce the prejudices you are attempting to fight?

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