Monday, June 8, 2009

Scottsboro, Alabama

The Good, The (not so) Fun and The Really Bad and Ugly of Scottsboro

The Good -The Scenery
We drove for many miles through lush green rolling hills that edge on being mountains and then more miles along the shores of Lake Gunterville and the Tennessee River. No pictures but take my word for it - absolutely beautiful.

The (not so) Fun - The Unclaimed Baggage Center

Ever had the airlines lose your luggage never to be seen again? If so – this is where it ended up. The airlines claim that after 90 fruitless days of diligent searching for the owner of the luggage/baggage they then turn it over (sell) to The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, AL. This is the one and only store in the country that sells unclaimed baggage. (Notice how they call it “Unclaimed” rather than “Airline Mis-handled” or “Airline Screwup” or something more appropriate). The store was started in 1970 by some guy (I don't care who) with $300 and a used (it is important that we know it was used vice new) pickup truck. Today it occupies a 40,000 sq ft building, stocks over 7,000 new items each day, sells over 1 million items each year. The store has many “amenities” including a Concierge Desk to help guests and Cups Espresso CafĂ© - serving Starbucks Coffee and Dippin Dots. Does it get any better than this?

To answer that question in a word – YES. It does get lots better than this. What a let down. We have heard about this place for years. Seen it highlighted on some stupid TV show. Checked it out on the Net. And what is it? It is a large, uninspiring, over-priced, thrift store.
Seriously, take this off of your bucket list of must dos before you die. Just go to the local Goodwill and pretend you were here.

The Really Bad and Ugly – a slice of history of Scottsboro that local residents would prefer to forget.
Some of you may be able to dredge up some memory of this story from the deep recesses of your mind. I'm sure that at some point in some history class in your past it was discussed. If you happen to be an attorney, you will be very familiar with Scottsboro and the case of the Scottsboro Boys.

The year is 1931, the depression is in full swing and Jim Crow Laws are in effect. Many people are illegally riding the railroads and are called hobos. In the South at that time a black male was said to risk lynching by just looking at a white woman – so you can imagine what kind of justice would be dished out if a black male was accused of raping a white woman.

A freight train is en-route from Chattanooga to Memphis and makes a stop near Scottsboro. It is there that nine black youths, ranging in age from twelve to twenty, are accused of raping two white women (all were riding in the same freight car). One of these women would later recant – but that had no bearing on the outcomes of the trials. No one involved was from Scottsboro.

Word of the accusations and arrests quickly spread and a lynch mob gathered in front of the jail in Scottsboro and prepared to storm the jail to lynch the youths. The crowd of farmers with many of their wives and children standing back and looking on, grew into the hundreds. The Sheriff barricaded the door to the jail and at 8:30 that evening he decided to move the accused youths to a jail in another community but could not because someone had cut the wires to the headlights on the squad cars. The mayor begged the crowd to leave. However, the mob refused and demanded that the youths be surrendered to them for immediate lynching. Given the situation, and at the request of an alarmed Sheriff, the Governor of Alabama was forced to call in the National Guard to protect the jail.

Authorities pleaded against mob violence by promising speedy trials and asking "the Judge to send them to the chair".

The trials began 12 days after the boys had been arrested (a little too speedy). The defense attorneys had little experience in criminal law and the judge gave them no time at all to prepare their cases. The juries were composed entirely of white males. Of the nine young black defendants eight were quickly convicted in a mob atmosphere in successive trials. By this time the mob outside the courthouse was estimated to be between 8 and 10 thousand. As each case went to the jury, the judge would start the next trial while the previous jury was still deliberating. All but one of the defendants was sentenced to death.

This case is among the most important cases in the history of American Jurisprudence. Although the defendants in this case were 'railroaded' good did come of the cases in the form of two Supreme Court rulings. And even though many of us feel that criminal defendants have too many rights compared to victims, I don't think anyone can argue with these Supreme Court rulings that established the principles that, in the United States, every defendant is entitled to effective counsel and that people may not be excluded from serving on juries solely on the basis of their race.

It is doubtful that any rape ever occurred. Through a series of trials and retrials the defendants were eventually relieved of their death sentences and they spent between six and nineteen years behind bars.

1 comment:

~Cheryl said...

Nice shots! Glad you aim got better as Alabama went by.