MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) - In a historic move Thursday morning, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted posthumous pardons in the case of the Scottsboro Boys.
The pardon formally exonerates three men whose convictions were never overturned. They were initially convicted of raping two white women in 1931.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley visited Scottsboro in April to sign Senate Bill 97 and House Joint Resolution 20, historic legislation clearing the men. The parole board made it official Thursday morning.
The pardoning legislation for the Scottsboro Boys was sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Laura Hall.
In all, nine black men were falsely accused and convicted by all-white juries. Five of the cases were overturned, and a sixth person received a pardon. Thursday's formal pardons are for the other three men, Charles Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
"It's not in the dark stages where we started off. We have come into a new light," Shelia Washington says. She's the founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center. It's the only museum dedicated to the boys in Scottsboro.
She says Thursday's decision marks a change. "Scottsboro has always had a negative name about it because of the Scottsboro Boys case," Washington says.
Washington says she hopes the decision will make Scottsboro stand out in the nation under a different light. "I'm hoping that Scottsboro will finally take the place in history, and we are the birthplace of the civil rights, and no longer be ashamed of what happened in the thirties," she says.
Washington says after she started the museum in 2009, she decided she wanted to do more. So she started to determine what needed to be done to pardon the last three. "The Pardons and Paroles Board didn't have the power to do it, and the Governor didn't have the power to do it," Washington says.
She says it was up to Alabama lawmakers to create legislation that would allow the boys to be pardoned after their deaths. So she says she started talking.
Washington says that talk turned to actions. What's now called the Scottsboro Boys Act was unanimously passed by the legislature and promptly signed by the Governor. "Everyone wanted to how I got the Republicans and the Democrats to work together on this and I said 'I don't know if I'm that good I should run for office.' "
Washington says the legislation saw a need. "The Governor said it's time to correct a wrong, it's never too late to correct a wrong," Washington says.
Washington says a lot has changed in more than eight decades. "I think it worked because it's a different age and a different time, where people know the truth," she says.