SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) – The Scottsboro Boys Museum closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and remained closed for extensive remodel and after the untimely death of its executive director, Shelia Washington. However, now the remodel of the museum is complete.
The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine young African-American men who were falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a train during the Great Depression. In April 1931, they were tried and sentenced to death.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturn their verdicts twice, however, the state continued to reindict. Altogether, they spent a total of 102 years in prison.
The museum tells the story of how those nine boys became an international phenomenon and symbol of economic and racial oppression.
Peggy Parks-Miller of Georgia was shocked when she found through family research that her uncle Clarence Norris is one of the infamous Scottsboro boys.
“All of this information popped up about the Scottsboro boys and him being a part of that. I was flabbergasted,” Miller told News 19.
Cities around the world held rallies and protests demanding Alabama to “Free the Scottsboro Boys.” Notable minds such as Albert Einstein, James Cagney and Sherwood Anderson were only a few of the hundreds of well-known people who signed petitions and wrote letters urging Alabama to release them.
Thomas Reidy, museum designer and interim director, said, “by the mid-1930s the case had grown tentacles that would reach every corner of the globe.”
The cultural response was great, as well. Langston Hughes wrote several poems and a one-act play about the case that sold thousands of copies all over the world. Lithographs, paintings and cartoons of the trials were circulated throughout the decade. Lead Belly was one of many artists that produced music about prisoners that played across the country.
After an-all white jury sentenced the boys to death then Jackson County sheriff Matt Wann blocked that death penalty. The sheriff’s grandson, Billy Wann, met Clarence Norris many years ago.
“I put my arm around him and told him that I was sheriff Wann’s grandson. He grabbed me and hugged me and that meant a lot to me,” said Wann.
The reopening of the Museum honors the life of the boys. Keyanni Bowie of James Clemens high school created a piece of art that represents freedom.
“Me being here today and just being here being able to do what I want with my talent and my passion. That’s truly a testament to how far we’ve come,” said Bowie.
You can find more information on the Scottsboro Boys and the museum here.