That distance is still being measured.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, applauded the correction of "an historic miscarriage of justice." But he noted that Alabama is involved in a Supreme Court case over the Voting Rights Act and has passed laws that critics say are discriminatory against immigrants in the country illegally.
"Like so many communities that have had tried to move beyond their ugliest chapters, Alabama has learned you can only move forward if you are honest about your past," Jealous said. "It's heartening that this was a unanimous vote."
"Unfortunately," he continued, "Alabama still needs to confront its present."
Susan Glisson, executive director of the Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, also was gladdened by the measure. "It is an opportunity for us to understand that period, especially the ways in which blacks were deemed inferior and therefore not worthy of equal treatment before the law," she said.
But she found it ironic that it happened while Alabama is challenging its requirements under the Voting Rights Act, and said that the amount of time it took to pass may lead some to consider it an "empty gesture."
"For those of us who care about where our country's headed, I would hope we would take the opportunity to ask difficult questions about what reconciliation really means and also to understand the critical role that education and justice plays in its accomplishment," Glisson said.
The episode began on a freight train traveling through Alabama during the Great Depression.
During that time, many people would sneak aboard for free rides between cities. There was a fight between whites and blacks on the train, and the two women made the false rape accusations in hopes of avoiding arrest.