The Politics of Race on Trial
On March 25, 1931, a fight broke out between white and African-American youths “riding the rails” in search of work during the Great Depression. When the train pulled to a stop in Scottsboro, Alabama, nine “Negro” boys were pulled from the train and were nearly lynched after two white girls falsely accused them of rape. Within days, the “Scottsboro Boys” (as they came to be known) had been hastily tried and condemned to death.
Eager to recruit Southern blacks into the Party, Communist organizers took up their defense. Through the International Labor Defense (ILD), the Party’s legal arm, the Communists secured the “Scottsboro Boys” a retrial, hiring New York’s finest criminal defense lawyer. Intending to expose the economic and racial injustice of the Capitalist system, the Communists did not confine their efforts to the Southern courts, but agitated and organized demonstrations across the globe to advocate for their innocence in the court of world opinion. The ILD fought their clients’ case all the way up to the Supreme Court and six years later secured the release of four of the nine defendants in 1937. The remaining “Scottsboro Boys,” however, languished in prison for many years more before death, pardon, or escape brought them freedom.
The Politics of Race on Trial was organized by Brian Orfall, a student in the FIU Department of History Master’s Degree Program and Miami-Dade County Public School teacher.