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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  September 19, 2011 1:45am-2:00am EDT

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shortly after the young nine black men were accused of rape. >> host: and they became known as? >> guest: they became known as the scott boys, one of the most celebrated spectacles of the 1930s and i add no other crime in the united states has been the subject of so many trials, retrials, convictions, reconvictions, reversals, and two major scream court decisions as the scottsboro case. >> host: this picture here, where was it taken? >> guest: that picture was taken shortly after the boys were arrested in paint rock, alabama. it's become a kind of iconic photograph of the case, and it's one that was the most widely circulated in the united states and abroad. >> host: and why is it iconic
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in your view? >> guest: because i think it captures so many aspects of the case even when it was not written about. the -- forlorn and bewildered expression of the boys themselves, as they were called, their poverty, the mill tarrization of the -- militarization of the trial that surrounded them, the total ab jex of the scene itself. >> host: if they were arrested in paint rock, how did this become known as the scottsboro's boys case? >> guest: because scottsboro was the town in which the first trials were held. the boys were arrested on march 31st, 1931. within two weeks, all of the boys had been tried, eight of them had been convicted, eight of them had been sentenced to
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death. they all converged in scottsboro, alabama. >> host: within two weeks? >> guest: two weeks. >> host: all white jury? >> guest: all white jury that ultimately became the basis of one of the first supreme court decisions about the case. >> host: who defended them? >> guest: good question because in some respects, no one in the town wanted to defend the boys. a lawyer was appointed named steven roddy. he was a lawyer of let us say suspect credentials, widely known to enjoy his liquor. he was not particularly well-known for his judicial competence. he was the in the case by his general reluctance. >> host: who was the judge in the first case? >> guest: good question. i forgot.
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>> host: what is the town of scottsboro like? >> guest: scottsboro then and now is a very, very small town in northern alabama. scottsboro now is known because it is the site of the place where left luggage supplies are auctioned and sold. it's a pretty town. it's a sleepy town. it's interesting because i have, in fact, talked to young people from scottsboro who still talk about it in those terms, many of whom now know nothing about the case. >> host: how many trials happened for the scottsboro boys? >> guest: the boys #w-r separated, and they were tried in batches. someone like clarence narris, who emerges as a major voice whose account we used to talk about the case, was tried at least three times.
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hayward patterson, another defendant was tried at least and convicted at least three times. there was variation because given the negro history of the case and the ways in which the boys were separated, some were tried and convicted more than others. >> host: so what happened after that first case which took two weeks, all the boys had been tried together -- >> guest: they had all been tried. well, they were tried, in fact, in batches, so they were four different trials the first time around. >> host: okay. after that first case, two weeks, how did it get to the supreme court? >> guest: through a series of winding procedures. there were debates among various groups about who was best qualified to remit -- represent and defend the scottsboro boys. there's contention between an organization called the
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international labor defense which was, you know, the legal wing of the communist party and the naacp, the ild as it was called, won the right to defend the scottsboro boys. they won their loyalty. they got their approval. they also hired a very, very competent criminal lawyer, sam liberwitz from new york who played a critical role in laying the groundwork for the case as it winded its way to the supreme court, the first one in 1932. >> host: professor miller, how did it sit to have a court case in alabama tried by a communist-funded jewish white lawyer? >> guest: not well in alabama. not well in alabama and all of these facts played a central role, i believe, in the way the
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case was perceived and the way the case was tried in alabama. liberwitz, himself, had to have at one point an armed guard to escort him, you know, like, between when he was off duty during the trials. >> host: so we go through the second series of trials, what happens to the scottsboro boys? >> guest: second series of trials, you know, like this was the decater trials. >> host: why did they move it from scottsboro? >> guest: i think that was more a question of simply the most available and convenient venue. there were no legal reasons behind that, but the judge in that particular case was a very, very fair minded judge, and that judge after hearing the testimony and the witnesses in effect declared a mistrial, you know, and ordered a retrial. that was a 1933, and that
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provided the foundation for yet another set of appeals which again went to the supreme court, and the supreme court ruled on behalf of the defendants in 1935, so between 1933 and 1935, there was a period of wait until these legal issues would resolve. >> host: during that time, were the boys all held? joil? >> guest: yes, they were. >> host: what were the ages? >> guest: they ranged in age from 13 to early 20s, 22 or 23, but collectively, all nine of the scottsboro boys served over 100 years in prison. first four were finally released after a series of legal maneuvers and behind the doors conversations and bargainings and deals in 1937. others were held into the early 1940s and beyond.
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>> host: so they all ended up with convictions? >> guest: they all ended up with convictions. in my book, i argue that the scottsboro case does not legally come to an end until 1974 when clarence narris, one of the boys who had been paroled in the late 1940s fled parole in the south, wound up working and living in new york under a different name, was finally given a pardon by then governor george wallace of alabama as a result of appeals made to governor wallace by the naacp and lawyers representing clarence narris. he was the only surviving scottsboro boy to actually receive some form of legal redemption. >> host: victoria price and ruby baits. what can you say about these two
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women? >> guest: to me, victoria price is thee great satan of the story. it's her accusations of rape that are the corner stone of everything that was charged. all the charges that were laid at the doorstep of the scottsboro boys. she was unrelenting in her assistance, through her lifetime that she had, in fact, be the victim of 5 sexual assault. ruby bates, you know, by the records and my impression and understanding of her was a more gentle and vulnerable person who joined into victoria price's story, but who was much more ambivalent about it. it was, in fact, ruby bates' recanting of the charges at the 1933 decater trial leading to
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judge hoerton saying we must bring to circus to the end. >> host: were they prostitutes? >> guest: prostitutes 1 a loaded term especially in the context of the social economic circumstances that they lived in and the social economic circumstances that they inhabited. they were known in their communities for exchanging sexual favors, sometimes for money, sometimes for particular, but they were also factory workers, and as factory workers, they were also looking for work. one other note about rube by bates after she recanted in 1933, she was embraced by the ild and communist party and went on a speaking tour on behalf of gaining freedom for the scottsboro boys. >> host: the importance of the racial issue in 1931 when this happened. >> guest: absolutely central, and absolutely inflammatory.
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if you go back and look at the newspaper reports and early alabama newspapers, the montgomery advertiser, look at the headlines, every single stereotype that you can imagine about black men, white women, the presumption of sexually predatory behavior, the prejudices -- presumption of rape. >> host: how widespread was the coverage of the trial? >> guest: it was very, very widespread for several reasons. not only covered in the south and alabama, but also it turned out as part of the home program, as part of their own work, the communist party was actively at work in the area of alabama where this occurred. they covered the case immediately. they sent dispatchers to news sources 234 new york --
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in new york city and sent dispatchers to their own propaganda and newspaper networks. this became both a local, regionally known, nationally known, and internationally known case very, very quickly. >> host: hey hayward patterson wrote a book? >> guest: he did in the 1940ings. he was in many respects the member of the scottsboro boys who attracted a great deal of public antagonism because of his attitude, because of his defiance, because of his refusal to submit himself or subject himself to the stereotypical roles that young black men were assumed that they should adapt. he was defiant, and he became for some, particularly those on the left, mountain in communist party, a symbol of revolutionary
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defiance and the potential for young black people and black people in general to break the chains of racial oppression. >> host: what's the painting or drawing on the cover of the book? >> guest: the painting on the cover, in fact, was drawn by a young, white, dc artist who was a good friend of the well-known poet, langston hughs. he was one of the african-american writers who was most deeply engaged in the publicity campaigns around freeing the scottsboro boys. he wrote a famous, in the 1930s, book of poetry called "scottsboro limited." they did illustrations, and this image is an image that comes from that particular collection. that's a wonderful image by
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taylor. his executive happened to live in georgetown, dc, and his executor kindly gave us the permission to reprint that image on the cover of the book for which i'm delighted. >> host: chairman of the american studies department here in george washington university. in your subtitle, you use the word "legacy" of the trial. what's legacy in your view? >> guest: i was concerned as a student of literature and culture of the way scottsboro worked its way into the vocabulary of race relations, the way in which language circulates, and the ways in which language continueses to carry -- continues to carry meaning and resonance long after the events that triggered it off have occurred. the legacy for me is not just the legal legacy or the political legacy. it's the ways in which language informs our


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