The University of Alabama

UA Faculty Aids in Push to Pardon Scottsboro Boys

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama faculty aided the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in setting the stage for the state to rectify a miscarriage of justice when the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles meets Thursday, Nov. 21 in Montgomery to discuss posthumous pardons for the “Scottsboro Boys.”

The Scottsboro defendants were nine African-American youths wrongly convicted of raping two white women in 1931.

Legislative language proposed by the Museum in collaboration with UA faculty made the petition for the posthumous pardons possible. The Scottsboro Boys Act, which was signed into law after the 2013 legislative session, changes Alabama law to allow posthumous pardons for certain kinds of felons if a petition can show that racial prejudice affected the outcomes of their trials. Another piece of legislation to which UA faculty contributed was a successful joint resolution exonerating all nine of the Scottsboro defendants.

John Miller, assistant professor and assistant director of UA’s New College, worked with John Graham, and Glenn Thompson, circuit judges of  Scottsboro and Decatur, respectively, in crafting the petition and supporting affidavits obtained from legal and historical experts on the Scottsboro trials.

Among the experts who provided affidavits based on their knowledge of the details of the case were Fred Gray, civil rights attorney; Bill Baxley, former Alabama attorney general; Milton Davis, assistant attorney general; Dan Carter, professor emeritus, University of South Carolina; James Goodman, professor, Rutgers University; as well as John Carroll, dean of the Cumberland School of Law; and Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus, Auburn University.  Miller assembled these affidavits and the petition, which he then forwarded to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Rape charges against Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright were dropped in 1937 after their convictions were overturned. Accordingly, Alabama law does not consider these five defendants to have been convicted of the rapes of the alleged victims. And since Clarence Norris was pardoned in 1976, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has determined that Weems, Patterson and Andy Wright are the only Scottsboro defendants eligible for pardon under Alabama law.

Miller, Dr. Ellen Griffith Spears, UA assistant professor of New College, and Shelia Washington, the director of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, will be on hand at the hearing. Miller called Washington the “driving force” behind the push to pardon the wrongly convicted defendants.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Bobby Mathews, UA media relations, bwmathews1@ua.edu, 205/348-4956
  • SOURCE: Dr. John Miller, assistant director of UA's New College, 205/348-2642