Changing America and the Changing Image of Scottsboro
The Scottsboro rape
case was not merely one of America’s most prominent causes célèbres,
it was the most famous rape case of the century. To the dismay of
American liberals the story of the nine young Negroes snatched from a
freight train, nearly lynched, quickly convicted, and sentenced to death,
was circulated round the globe in the 1930s by the international communist
movement.1 From pam-phlets,
petitions, and telegrams to protest rallies, parades, stoning of United
States embassies, and the March on Washington of 1933, intense agitation
was conducted on behalf of the Scottsboro boys. With a subject of such
emotional interest—the alleged rape by young blacks of two white girls of
questionable reputation in Alabama; the struggle between the liberal
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the
Communist International Labor Defense (ILD) to control the defense of the
boys; the court room drama in which one of the white “victims” denied that
she had been raped, and in which the prosecution appealed to anti-Negro,
anti-Semetic, and anti-Northern prejudice; the secret negotiations and
deals between liberal ministers and Alabama Governors—it would seem
inevitable that the literature about Scottsboro be extensive.
Nevertheless, a bitter complaint on this point was registered by Countee
Cullen when he asserted, “Scottsboro Too, Is Worth Its Song (A poem to
However, if many
poets did not sing of Scottsboro, others did, as well as others who may
not have earned the title “poets.” The line between propaganda and
literature is unclear, and if not all the works inspired by Scottsboro are
of literary quality, they are of considerable quantity. Moreover, the
content of the extensive literature of Scottsboro changed dramatically,
reflecting the radicalism of the 1930s, the cold-war liberalism of the
1950s, and the vacillations of the late 1960s and early 70s.
One of the more
prolific authors who wrote about Scottsboro was Langston Hughes, who had
visited the boys in prison and had spoken on their behalf. In November,
1931, his one-act play “Scottsboro Limited” was published. A Communist
interpretation of Southern conditions underlay the work, and the play ends
with the raising of the Red flag while everyone sings the Internationale.3
Hughes also wrote poems dedicated to the plight of the nine accused:
“Scottsboro,” “The Town of Scottsboro,” “Brown America in Jail,” and
“Christ in Alabama.”4 But
Hughes was not alone in finding Scottsboro a suitable text for literature.
S. Ralph Harlow contributed a one-act play to the NAACP’s Crisis
in October, 1933, focusing his attention on Judge James Horton who
presided at one of the trials. “It Might Have Happened Somewhere in
Alabama” opens on Good Friday, 1932, in the study of a judge. The jurist
hears the radio describe the last days of Christ. He hears how Pilate
tried to protect Jesus from the prejudiced mob and how the Roman governor
hoped to evade sentencing the man before him. The judge begins to
identify with Pilate, but demurs: “These illiterate nigger boys are not
the Christ. Had I stood in Pilate’s place they could have torn me limb
from limb. . . .” The harried judge opens his Bible to distract his
attention, but he reads, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of My
brethren ye did it unto me.” After more soul-searching, his wife, calling
him to dine, reminds him to wash his hands.5
There the play concludes.
Muriel Rukeyser had
visited Decatur, Alabama, during one of the trials. Authorities arrested
her for distributing leaflets, and Samuel Leibowitz, chief defense
counsel, threatened to resign unless she and her comrades departed. Miss
Rukeyser left Decatur, but not without impressions that she later composed
in the poem, “The Trial.”6
Additional Scottsboro poems were written by Michael Quin, a “Duluth
Worker,” Kay Boyle, and others.7
In March, 1934, a
play written by John Wexley and produced by the Theatre Guild opened at
the Royale Theatre near Broadway, The New York Times correspondent
who had reported the Decatur trials of the Scottsboro boys, F. Raymond
Daniell, was assigned the task of reviewing “They Shall Not Die.” He wrote
of the production, “only one touch of realism is lacking. . . . That is
the rich bouquet of perspiration and the acrid affluvia of stale tobacco
juice.” He found everything so similar to the events he had witnessed
that watching the play was like seeing a “dream walking.” He deemed the
court scenes a carefully edited transcript and headlined his comments, “An
Alabama Court in Forty-Fifth Street.”8
A similar review appeared in
Elmer Carter called the drama “realism, stark and unadorned.”9
The Communist New Masses analyzed some weaknesses in
“They Shall Not Die.” First, the views of the ILD were insufficiently
presented. Next, there was the emphasis on court-room atmosphere rather
than the mass pressure aroused by the radical movements. Samuel Leibowitz,
the bourgeois lawyer retained by the ILD, rather than the ILD itself,
appeared as the savior of the boys. But the New Masses critic
recognized the difficulty of exhibiting a radical drama to a
non-revolutionary audience and concluded, “If one manages to undermine
their faith in the capitalistic system, its morality, justice, esthetic,
its other values, one is doing a great deal, one weakens resistance to
revolutionary change. . . . Viewed in this light, They Shall Not Die
is extremely successful.”10
As expected, the NAACP’s Crisis reviewer was less enthusiastic
about Wexley’s play. He called it “propaganda for the Communist party
transferred to the stage” and was especially critical of the parts
disparaging the NAACP. After the first act, however, the reviewer noted
improvement and was gratified when the audience hissed the prosecutor and
cheered the boys’ defense attorney.11 Another
Scottsboro play had the misfortune to open within a week of the Wexley
drama, and “Legal Murder” by Dennis Donoghue, soon closed.12
In 1934 Thomas
Stribling completed a trilogy of Southern life with Unfinished
Cathedral. This novel begins with an attempted lynching of young
Negroes accused of raping a white girl on a freight train. But as the
story progressed, the rape case grew ever more peripheral. Instead,
Stribling stressed issues echoing the 1920s—evolution, a girl’s chastity
and her high school beau, the generation gap, a real-estate boom and bust,
church membership for an unbeliever, and a Civil War battle reenactment.
These questions displaced the issues of alleged rape and race.13
In addition to the
plays, poetry, and part of a novel derived from the Scottsboro case, the
cause célèbre exerted its influence in. other fields. The Daily
Worker printed a song with music and lyrics, “The Scottsboro Boys
Shall Not Die.”14 Moreover,
there were Scottsboro ballads, a Scottsboro dance, and “The Death House
definition of visual art include cartoons, then dozens of sketches based
on Scottsboro in the Communist press and elsewhere would be relevant.
Pictures were also relevant in another way—film star James Cagney served
as an auctioneer at an art sale in San Francisco to raise funds for the
In the mid-1930s
there were new developments in the Scottsboro case. The Communist Party
lost its paramount role in conducting the defense of the boys, and a
coalition was forged with the formation of the Scottsboro Defense
Committee (SDC). A popular-front organization, it had the support of the
Communists though its leadership was liberal. A new phase of the
Scottsboro case began. Behind closed doors liberal ministers and racist
Governors debated the fate of black youngsters unjustly imprisoned. In
1937 the State of Alabama compromised, allowing four of the nine boys to
go free. In return, the SDC promised that Communists would not agitate
about Scottsboro. The Communists agreed, and such agitation, propaganda,
and literature virtually disappeared.17
During World War II most of the other boys were quietly released on
probation. One, the most radical, was not. On July 21, 1948, Haywood
Patterson escaped after seventeen years in Alabama prisons. The
anti-Communist chairman of the SDC, the Reverend Allan Knight Chalmers,
advised the thirty-five-year-old Negro:
Choose a new name.
Don’t tell me what you call yourself or where you are. Begin to live a
new personality. Don’t think of yourself as a Scottsboro boy. Whenever
the word Scottsboro is mentioned, don’t let the expression on your face
change. Don’t seem to have any feelings about it.18
militant who rebelled in prison when mailing and visiting rights were
denied him, the activist who chose to free himself rather than wait an
undetermined time for the SDC to persuade the Governor of Alabama to
release him, chose not to forget. Patterson renewed his contacts with the
radical ILD, which had since merged with the National Negro Congress to
form the Civil Rights Congress (CRC). Patterson recalled his experiences
to Earl Conrad. Just as the last Scottsboro defendant remaining in jail,
Andy Wright, won his second parole, Scottsboro Boy appeared.19
Published by Doubleday, Patterson’s biography was not intended as a
definitive history of the Scottsboro case, but as a “revelation of the
actual day to day life of Negro men in prison camps of the deep South.”20
A reviewer in the Journal of Negro History wrote, “Other works
have treated this general subject, but few, if any, have described their
personal experiences so intimately and with such thorough going detail.”21
Abner Berry, in another review, titled his piece “American Dachau.”22
On June 27, 1950, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Haywood
Patterson in Detroit, and Alabama requested his extradition.23
Governor G. Mennen Williams of Michigan refused to return Patterson to
the South, and Alabama authorities chose not to prosecute the Negro in a
Michigan court.24 All the
Scottsboro men were then free.
As the post-war
years became the cold-war years Scottsboro became for American society an
incident to be forgotten, a memory to be repressed. In 1949, when “They
Shall Not Die” was restaged in New York, anti-Communist thugs assaulted
the actors.25 In 1950 when
the Governor of Alabama failed to win Patterson’s extradition, he called
the case a closed book. Except for a rare news article or a brief
reference by a state or national committee investigating alleged
subversion, the Scottsboro case and its defendants faded into the
obscurity of personal problems and scholarly distortion.26
Then in 1955 the Scottsboro tale was resurrected indirectly in Don
Mankiewicz’s successful novel Trial, which won a Harper prize and
was made into a film. Trial was neither a history of Scottsboro nor an
historical novel based directly on the case. Yet so many events in the
Alabama incident paralleled those of the Mankiewicz novel that the book
must be considered a thinly veiled and extremely partisan view of the
Scottsboro case. Trial was set in California. Marie Wiltse, a
white girl with a history of heart disease, is approached by Angel Chavez,
a young man of Mexican descent. They kiss; his hands wander. The girl
becomes frightened, she screams, and the boy attempts to quiet her. In
the struggle the girl dies of a heart attack, and the youth is charged
with murder. A lawyer for the Mexican Advancement Association plans to
defend the boy, but he yields the case to Bernard Castle, who shares the
defense with his new associate and the protagonist of the novel, David
Blake. Castle is to raise money for the defense while Blake manages the
legal phase of the case.
Tempers flare in the
California town because of the death of Marie Wiltse. Racists nearly
convert her burial into a lynching party. Meanwhile, Castle induces the
defendant’s mother to accompany him to New York to raise funds. After a
few weeks, he calls Blake to the East to aid the money-raising effort. In
a New York taxi taking him to the Arena, Blake related to the driver that
he is going to attend a rally. The chauffeur responds, “Ah read about that
rally. . . . Some Nigger raped a white gal, and a bunch of yids are trying
to get him off.”27
Blake discovers he
is working with Communists, who are diverting funds from the Chavez
defense to other radical efforts. Dejected, he returns to California to
try to save Angel in court. Blake’s attempt appears successful as the
trial nears a close, but then Castle demands that Blake place the
defendant on the witness stand. Blake opposes the move at first, but he
yields. The lad testifies and becomes confused under cross-examination.
Chavez is found guilty and is electrocuted. At the climax of the story
Castle’s disillusioned secretary confesses to Blake that Castle is a
Communist, that he snatched the case from the MAA attorney through
blackmail, and that it was he who told the racist lynchers where the
family burial of Marie would occur. Finally, it was Castle who insisted
that Chavez testify, because the attorney wanted the jury to convict the
young Mexican. Why?
Because Barney’s new
world’s acoming. A world where a man’s color won’t make any difference.
A world—oh, hell, you’ve heard about it. And to bring that world about,
there have to be sacrifices. And Angel has to make his sacrifice, just
the same as Barney would make, if their places were reversed. Get Angel
off, and what have you proved? That there’s no prejudice in San Juno.
In the whole State, for that matter. But that’s not true. There is
prejudice. The kind that’ll railroad a Mex to his death on a charge that
wouldn’t take a white man past the coroner. That’s the truth. And to
bring that truth into focus, to prove it, the prejudice has to be
permitted to do its work, to do its murder right out in public, where it
will drive the truth home to the people who have to be brought together
and united, to fight the prejudice, so that it won’t be here any more and
the new world will be here. Only— . . . of course Angel won’t be here to
enjoy that wonderful stinking day.28
Although the novel
deals harshly with racists and the un-American activities committees; the
main criticism of the Mankiewicz work is directed at the Communists. The
author, foe of both right and left, received the applause of liberals.
qualitative change in Scottsboro literature. In the 1930s a considerable
quantity of Scottsboro material was produced, and it overwhelmingly
represented the radical perspective. Much of it was published in the
Communist press—the Daily Worker or New Masses. But even
Wexley’s play, the poems in the Urban League’s
and Harlow’s account in the NAACP’s Crisis, all reflected a radical
outlook. In each, Negroes are unjustly persecuted by a racist society; in
each, the judicial system is viewed with hostility—either because of a
Pilate-like judge or a sadistic jury. In each example the author’s main
target is racism in America, and in some works Communists emerge as
heroes—the vanguard against racism.
With the 1950s
American intellectuals, reflecting the new climate of anti-Communist
liberalism, could no longer accept such a view. Trial was written;
Trial won acclaim; Trial was filmed. Here was the
Scottsboro case, though warped, distorted, liberalized. Whereas previous
efforts had questioned the possibility of justice in a racist society and
attacked American racism, Mankiewicz posed no such questions and directed
his attacks elsewhere. In his novel, racists exist. But who arouses
them, who works with them? The Communists. In his novel an innocent man
is condemned, an injustice occurs within the system. But who is at
fault? Not the system, but the Communists. The theme of Trial is
nearly the reverse of previous writings on Scottsboro. Most previous
authors had blamed the injustice on the system and some looked to
Communists to right the wrongs; Mankiewicz blamed the injustice on the
Communists, who for him were the great threat, the great danger. So if
somehow justice in America malfunctioned, the Communists were somehow to
blame. Liberals no less than conservatives have found in Communists a
wrote Trial, he significantly changed the race of the accused from
black to brown, the State from Alabama to California. The reason is
evident. If the liberal is to blame injustice on the Communists, the
accused minority must have a chance of acquittal before his perfidious
radical attorney places him on the witness stand to betray him. But the
accused at Scottsboro had no such chance. Many blacks still have no
chance. Thus, Mankiewicz wrote of a Mexican on trial in California rather
than of blacks on trial in Alabama.
Interesting as this
liberal anti-Communist novel is, its charges against the Communists
basically are unfounded. It is an interesting novel not because of what
it reveals about Scottsboro, but because of what it shows of the liberal
psyche. As late as 1955, liberals preferred to avoid the issue of the
black man—sublimating him into a Mexican, an Indian, or some other more
palatable minority. Moreover, Trial assured Americans that the
system was sound, except when villainous radicals tampered with it. And in
the film, in the tradition of Hollywood’s happy endings, the liberal
lawyer even challenges the Communist Castle and succeeds in saving young
What Mankiewicz did
for cold-war fiction, scholars have done for cold-war history. Liberal
historians manufactured a myth about Scottsboro so that the case became an
anti-Communist morality play. According to liberals, Communist treachery
was revealed in a number of ways. First, Communists stole large sums of
money contributed to the defense of the young blacks. Allan Knight
Chalmers maintained that Communists collected over $1,000,000 in the name
of the boys, but spent only $100,000 on their behalf.29
Murray Kempton, Ralph McGill, Walter White, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., good
liberals all, all re-echo Chalmers’ charge.30
In addition, others have elaborated, but in the fashion of
medieval historical exaggeration. Quentin Reynolds implied that the
Communists profited by $2,000,000, while the president of a Negro college
escalated the amount to $5,000,000.31
Oneal and Werner, describing American Communism, discussed Scottsboro in
their chapter on finance rather than minorities!32
Nevertheless, Dan Carter in his prize-winning study, Scottsboro: A
Tragedy of the American South, published in 1969 after the apex of the
cold war, wrote:
There is little
evidence to support the constantly reiterated charge that the Communists
raised as much as one million dollars from the case. . . . The proletarian
nonchalance with which the International Labor Defense kept its records
makes definitive conclusions difficult, but the ILD’s financial reports
and other internal evidence indicate the Party and its affiliates raised
less than $150,000 with the great majority of this amount going to
unavoidable defense costs.33
buries this revisionist analysis of the liberals’ oft-repeated charge in
the second half of a footnote, thereby insuring the continued repetition
of the charge.
charge which Carter refutes is the contention that Communists sought to
have the black defendants executed in order to create martyrs, intensify
distrust of the American judicial system, and, in the process, win more
converts to Communism. Ironically originating with W. E. B. DuBois in
1931, the charge, in modified form, can be traced to Wilson Record,
William Nolan, James Farmer, and J. Edgar Hoover.34
Concerned with motivation rather than action, this charge is more
difficult to disprove. Nonetheless, after recording many of the
anti-Communist allegations, Carter concludes: “No amount of reservations
or criticism, however, could alter one basic fact. The International
Labor Defense had succeeded in winning eight of the Scottsboro boys
another chance for life.”35
Had the Communists truly desired the deaths of the blacks, they most
likely never would have intervened in the case at all.36
The only reason people heard of the case in the 1930s and remember it in
the 1970s is because the Communists did intervene and did make of it a
monopoly of anti-Communist liberals was challenged slightly with the
advent of major civil rights and anti-imperialist movements in the 1960s.
Even classic cases of American injustice could again be discussed, could
again be topics of literature. In 1969 Dan Carter’s rather objective book
was published and won acclaim. In 1970 Kelly Covin published Hear That
Train Blow!, a “documentary novel” of the Scottsboro case.37
Appearing a year after Carter’s work, it is interesting to note where
Covin’s novel deviates from historical fact—for deviations there are.
First, Covin implies there was considerable publicity about the
Scottsboro case before the Communists controlled the defense.38
True, but the early publicity was concerned not with exposing Alabama
injustice but with praise for the State for preventing a pre-trial
lynching.39 Second, in
contrasting the NAACP attorney and the ILD attorney, Covin maligns the
latter.40 In so doing,
Covin obscures the fact that the United States Supreme Court in 1932
granted new trials, to the Scottsboro defendants, because of the
incompetent defense of the NAACP attorney. Had the NAACP conducted the
appeals instead of the Communist ILD it is possible the innocent Negroes
would have been executed.41
In a similar vein, Covin portrays the appeal to the Supreme Court as
almost automatic,42 grossly
underestimating the difficulties in appealing to the conservative court of
1932.43 He accuses the
Communists of making enormous profits by diverting funds contributed to
the defense,44 a repetition
of a falsehood. Ironically, while alleging that the ILD was siphoning off
funds raised in America, he also identified the ILD as a “Moscow financed”
Covin accuses the Communists, like Bernard Castle in Trial, of
seeking the death of the Negroes for propaganda purposes.46
The refutation of this has been presented already.
There are other
historical errors in Covin’s work, but it is unnecessary to catalog the
way in which a novel is not history. My purpose in revealing the
aforesaid distortions is to demonstrate that Covin’s novel incorporates
much anti-Communist prejudice. However, one character created by Covin,
indeed the hero of his novel, is of special importance. Hector Benson, a
reporter for Southern newspapers, follows the rape case from the outset
and even prompts prison guards to obtain “confessions” from the accused
Negroes. But as the trials and years elapse, Benson sickens of the
injustice and resolves to struggle for a more just society, for a better
world. He becomes a reporter for the Daily Worker, volunteers for
Spain, and is killed in that nation’s civil war. It is Benson, the
Southerner, the Communist, who lives the “American dream.”47
Thus, the breakthrough in Covin’s novel is that he defies the
blacklist on Red heroes and portrays an American Communist as a most noble
The Covin novel of
1970 is a contradictory synthesis, a hybrid of the 1930s and 1950s,
straddling the ideological issues raised by Scottsboro. Hear That
Train Blow! contains much anti-Communist propaganda, but partially
counters it by including many historical documents. Surprisingly, it makes
a Communist the hero of the novel. Nonetheless, Covin retains so many
false accusations against the Party that most readers will, like the
hero’s wife and his boss, find his conversion to Communism inexplicable.
Though Hear That Train Blow! is an excellent short account of
prejudice in the South, it is also a synthesis of compromise between the
truth of the Scottsboro case and the necessity of the American market
Countee Cullen erred
when he accused the poets of silence about Scottsboro. Poets did sing,
and playwrights did write. But in the era of mass communication more was
required if those voices were to be
heard. Only Trial
has been fully acceptable to the mass media, because only Trial
deflected the Scottsboro theme from an attack upon racism into an attack
upon Communism. Only then was the Scottsboro story acceptable to the
media, but it was so distorted as to be almost unrecognizable. Perhaps
it is not the poets but the media and those who control it who are
responsible for the silence surrounding Scottsboro.
For example, see Walter White, How Far the Promised Land? (New
York, 1955), p. 215. For the best general account of the entire case see
Dan T. Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton
Countee Cullen, “Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song,” in Black Voices:
An Anthology of Afro-American Literature, ed. by Abraham Chapman (New
York, 1968), p. 385.
Langston Hughes, “Scottsboro Limited,” New Masses, VII (November,
1931), 18-21. It is surprising to find Ezra Pound, in a letter from
Italy, thanking Hughes for sending him a copy of the play. Pound related,
“As for the case itself, [sic] I don’t know that my name or
anyone’s name can be of any use.” He then stated that the South was
governed by its worst men, giving birth to “flagrant injustice.” D. D.
Paige, ed., The Letters of Ezra Pound: 1907-1941 (New York, 1950),
IX (December, 1931). 397; “The Town of Scottsboro,” New Masses, VII
(February, 1932), 174; “Brown America in Jail: Kilby,”
X (June, 1932), 174; “My Adventures as a Social Poet,” Phylon, VIII
(Third Quarter, 1947), 207-08. A number of Hughes’ works on Scottsboro
were printed in a pamphlet, Hughes, Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and
a Play in Verse (New York, 1932).
Ralph Harlow, “It Might Have Happened in Alabama,” Crisis, X
(October, 1933), 27-29. Harlow was asked if his opinion of the jurist had
changed after Judge Horton reversed the jury’s verdict of guilty and
remanded the case of a Scottsboro boy to a new trial. To this Harlow
replied, “Judge Horton did ‘score’ but “ . . . he hardly should be given
credit for any great victory, either in the realm of law or of ethics, . .
. At least he should have broken in several times and denounced the
tirades delivered. . . at the trial; on two counts he could have called
the trial off and his final words of praise to the jury after they reached
their verdict washed out for me all he did to preserve order in the court
room.” Judge Horton undoubtedly displayed courage by overturning the
jury’s guilty verdict. As a consequence, he was defeated when he sought
reelection to the bench. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that Judge Horton
knew the boys were innocent. One of the doctors who had examined the
girls shortly after the alleged rapes told the judge in 1933 that they had
not been raped. The judge, like the doctor, remained silent about this
incident from the 1930s until the 1960s. See Carter, Scottsboro,
pp. 214-15; also my interview with former Judge James E. Horton at
Greenbriar, Alabama, July, 1967. Regrettably, C. Vann Woodward, reviewing
Carter’s book, deemed Judge Horton the hero of the case. C. Vann Woodward,
Times Book Review,
March 9, 1969.
Muriel Rukeyser, “The Trial,” New Masses, XI (June 12, 1932), 20.
November 24, 1934; Ibid., May 4, 1936; Kay Boyle, “A Communication
to Nancy Cunard,” New Republic, XCL (June 9, 1937), 127.
New York Times, March 4, 1934. The play can be found in: John
Wexley, They Shall Not Die: A Play (New York. 1934); Granville
Hicks, et al., Proletarian Literature in the United States
(New York, 1935); and Burns Mantle, ed., The Best Plays of 1933-1934
(New York, 1935), p. 228.
Elmer Anderson Carter, “They Shall Not Die,”
XII (April, 1934), 118-19.
J. K. , “The Theatre,” New Masses, X (March 13, 1934), 30.
“They Shall Not Die,” Crisis, XII (April, 1934), 104.
Morgan Y. Himelsteil, Drama Was a Weapon: The Left-Wing Theatre in New
York, 1921-1941 (New Brunswick. N.J., 1963), p. 189. It is alleged
that Sasha Small, one of the editors of the official ILD journal, wrote
another play, “Scottsboro,” which was produced in large American cities.
See U. S. Congress, House, Special Committee on Un-American Activities in
the United States, 75th Cong., 3rd sess., 1938, p. 502. Nevertheless, the
only work by Sasha Small that I could locate was Scottsboro: Act III,
a fifteen-page pamphlet.
T. S. Stribling, Unfinished Cathedral (Garden City, 1934).
July 21, 1933.
Ibid., March 6, 1937; Hicks, Proletarian Literature, pp.
March 3, 1934. Also, there was a suggestion by Floyd C. Covington,
Executive Secretary of the Los Angeles Urban League, that a movie be made
with these objectives: 1) raise money for the Scottsboro defense, 2)
develop sympathy for Negroes, and 3) give every Negro an opportunity to
participate in something of interest to him. But Covington proclaimed
that this proposed film was “not one of propaganda or reciprocal prejudice
and hatred; for he who would reach the hearts and minds of men must use an
alchemy of love and forbearance. Only a theme which has human interest, a
universal, and non-propagandistic motif can accomplish this.” Apparently
Covington believed the Scottsboro case lacked such interest and motif. He
proposed instead a story of a Negro boy who joins a circus. Floyd C.
Covington, A Motion Picture Project for Scottsboro Boys Defense Fund
(Los Angeles: Urban League, 1933). In addition, there was at least one
attempt to use the Scottsboro story as the basis of a television
production in North America. Whether it was ever televised, I do not
know. See letter of Kelly Covin of Alan Reitman, September 14, 1964; “The
Thirteenth Juror: A Television Documentary-A Study in Prejudice Based on
the ‘Scottsboro’ Writings of Arthur Garfield Hays, and on Court Records,”
American Civil Liberties Union Files, New York City. Ironically, the
British commercial television network, ATV, presented on July 11, 1972, a
fifty-two minute program on the Scottsboro case. The telecast was part of
ATV’s “turning points in history” series, with another in the series
devoted to the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In April, 1976, the National
Broadcasting Company telecast a television film, “Judge Horton and the
For an account of the tedious negotiations between the SDC and Alabama
Governors, as well as internal conflicts in the SDC, see Allan Knight
Chalmers, They Shall Be Free (Garden City, 1951). The introduction
was written by the anti-Communist Walter White of the NAACP. Chalmers had
chaired the SDC; his attitude to the Communists pervades his book, and can
be summarized in his own words on p. 131:
Frankly, I hate to contemplate the
vials of wrath, the vitriolic bitterness, and the restoration to control
over the defense of those [the Communists] whose belief that it is only
by denunciation and violence that justice can be obtained. It is . . .
that a part of my great concern in this matter has been to demonstrate
the effectiveness of the way of working through conciliation in the
solution of an apparently insoluable situation.
Ibid, p. 219.
New York Times, June 7, 1950.
T. L. Langhorne. review of Scottsboro Boy, by Haywood Patterson and
Earl Conrad in Journal of Negro History, XXXV (October, 1950), 464.
Ibid., p. 465.
Abner Berry, “American Dachau,” review of Scottsboro Boy by
Patterson and Conrad, in Masses and Mainstream (July, 1950), pp.
New York Times, June 8 and July 11, 1950; Chalmers, op. cit.,
New York Times, July 14, 1950.
Ibid., August 2, 1949.
Paul Maas, “The Tragic Curse of the Scottsboro Boys,” Inside Story
(May, 1960), pp. 16ff; Sally Belfrage, “The Scottsboro Boys Today,”
Fact, III (November-December, 1966), 58-62; Carter, Scottsboro,
Don Mankiewicz, Trial (New York, 1955; paperback edition, 1962). p.
Ibid., p. 235.
Chalmers, op. cit., p. 34.
Murray Kempton, Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the
Thirties (New York, 1955), p. 253; Ralph McGill, The South and the
Southerner (Boston, 1959), p. 198; White, op. cit., pp. 214-15;
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval, Vol. III: The
Age of Roosevelt (Boston, 1960), p. 429.
Quentin Reynolds, Courtroom: The Story of Samuel S. Leibowitz (New
York, 1950), p. 311; Broadus Butler in a speech to faculty at Dillard
University, New Orleans, September, 1969. The anti-Communist Harold Cruse
simply quotes Reynolds. See Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro
Intellectual, from Its Origins to the Present (New York, 1971), p.
Oneal and G. A. Werner, American Communism: A Critical Analysis of Its
Origins, Development and Programs (New York, 1947), pp. 234-35.
Carter, op. cit., p. 170. For further refutation of this charge that
Communists stole vast sums see Hugh Murray, Jr., “The Scottsboro Rape Case
and the Communist Party” (Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Tulane University,
1963), pp. 242-45. See also Hugh T. Murray, Jr.’s Civil Rights
History-Writing and Anti-Communism: A Critique (New York; American
Institute for Marxist Studies, Occasional Paper, 16, 1975), pp. 26-32.
W. E. B. DuBois, “Postscript,” The Crisis, XXXVIII (September,
1931), 313: Wilson Record, Race and Radicalism: The NAACP and the
Communist Party Conflict, vol. of Communism in American Life,
ed. by Clinton Rossiter, and vol. of Cornell Studies in Civil Liberty
(Ithaca, 1964), p. 43. Earl Latham, The Communist Controversy in
Washington: From the New Deal to McCarthy (Cambridge, Mass., 1966), p.
25; James Farmer in a speech at Tulane University, February, 1964; J.
Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit: A Study of Communism in America and
How to Fight It (New York, 1958), p. 252; Thomas R. Brooks, Walls
Come Tumbling Down: A History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1940-1910
(Englewood Cliffs, 1974), p. 68.
Carter, op. cit., p. 173. Similar conclusions were drawn by the
correspondent of the New York Times who attended many of the
trials, New York Times, January 20, 1936.
Hugh T. Murray, Jr.,
“The NAACP Versus the Communist Party: The Scottsboro Cases, 1931-1932,”
Phylon, XXVIII (Fall, 1967), 287.
Kelly Covin, Hear That Train Blow! A Novel about the Scottsboro Case
(New York, 1970). Discussion of anti-Communist prejudices in Carter’s
work will be discussed in Hugh T. Murray, Jr., Civil Rights History and
Anti-Communism, Occasional Paper, no. 16, American Institute for
Marxist Studies. Forthcoming, 1975.
Covin, op. cit., p. 24.
Carter, op. cit., p.13; New York Times, March 26-31, 1931.
Covin, op. cit., pp. 137-38, 157-58, 150, 199.
Murray, op. cit., pp. 286-87.
Covin, op. cit., p. 195.
Murray, op. cit., pp. 284-87.
Covin, op. cit., pp. 205, 235, 295, 373. 374.
Ibid., p. 29.
Ibid., pp. 31, 199, 236, 295.
Ibid., pp. 435-37.
Posted March 15,