The Scottsboro Boys in Their Own Words

Selected Letters, 1931–1950


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About the Book

This is a collection of letters written by the nine African American defendants in the infamous March 1931 Scottsboro, Alabama, rape case. Though most of the defendants were barely literate and all were teenagers when incarcerated, over the course of almost two decades in prison they learned the rudiments of effective letter writing and in doing so forcefully expressed a wide range of perspectives on the falsity of the charges against them as their incarceration became a cause célèbre both in the United States and internationally.
Central to this book is the chronologically structured presentation of letters (1931–1950), including some correspondence from attorneys and members of Scottsboro support committees. The original grammar, syntax and vernacular of the defendants are maintained in a desire to preserve the authenticity of these letters.

About the Author(s)

Kwando Mbiassi Kinshasa is a professor of African American Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York.

Bibliographic Details

Edited by Kwando M. Kinshasa
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 336
Bibliographic Info: 7 photos, appendices, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7204-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0344-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Preface 1

Introduction 7

 1: Letters from 1931: Establishing the Legal Ground 15

 2: Letters from 1932: Counselors for the Wise 70

 3: Letters from 1933: Clash of Concerns 88

 4: Letters from 1934: Scottsboro Mothers 101

 5: Letters from 1935: Black Jurors Wanted 132

 6: Letters from 1936: Psychology of Oppression 137

 7: Letters from 1937: Four Down, Five to Go 165

 8: Letters from 1938: Jail Rot 193

 9: Letters from 1939: To be Free, and Then What 205

10: Letters from 1940: Pushed to the Limits 216

11: Letters from 1941: Dear Miss Hester Huntington 239

12: Letters from 1942: The ILD Way 248

13: Letters from 1943: Reaching Outward 257

14: Letters from 1944: To Be Paroled or Not 271

15: Letters from 1945: Patterson’s Burden 288

16: Letters from 1946: Andy Wright’s Return 297

17: Letters from 1947: The Cost of Parole 300

18: Letters from 1948: Patterson’s Guile 302

19: Letters from 1950: Andy’s Walk 309

Postscript 311


  A. Report of the “Traveling Salesman” 315

  B. Kilby State Prison 315

  C. The Death of Janie Patterson 316

  D. Death Warrant of Haywood Patterson 317

References 319

Index 321

Book Reviews & Awards

“Remains in our historical memory, both questioning and defining civil rights in Depression America…remarkably gives the case a new perspective…strongly recommended”—Library Journal; “though many of the Scottsboro Nine were illiterate at the time of their arrest, the letters collected here show their intellectual development as they grew from youth caught up in the usual mistreatment of blacks in the rural South to men part of an international cause célèbre”—Booklist; “this book makes a much-needed contribution to the scholarship on the Scottsboro case, and is strongly recommended for researchers and faculty interested in race and the criminal justice system. Highly recommended”—Choice.