— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature has taken major steps toward clearing the names of the Scottsboro Boys, more than 80 years after the young black men were convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women.
The Senate voted 29-0 Thursday for legislation allowing the state parole board to issue posthumous pardons for the eight Scottsboro Boys. State law currently does not permit posthumous pardons. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, is narrowly tailored for the Scottsboro Boys.
"Does it change history? Of course it doesn't," Orr said. But he said it is a step toward trying to right "an unfortunate event in our state history."
The bill now moves to the House, where House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, predicted it will pass overwhelmingly.
"It was not a pretty part of our state's history," Hubbard said.
The House passed a resolution Feb. 14 saying the Scottsboro Boys "were the victims of a gross injustice" and are considered exonerated by the Legislature. That resolution, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Robinson of Scottsboro, is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The nine black youths from Georgia and Tennessee were accused of raping two white women on a train in north Alabama in 1931. They were convicted by an all-white jury during a racially charged trial in Scottsboro. All but the youngest received a death sentence but later won new trials. One of the women recanted her story. Five of the Scottsboro Boys eventually had the rape charges dropped, but four did not.
In 1976, the only known living Scottsboro Boy, Clarence Norris, obtained a pardon from then-Gov. George C. Wallace and the state parole board. At the time, there was talk of trying to do something for Andy and Roy Wright, Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, William Roberson and Eugene Williams. But nothing happened, and then little was said after Norris died in 1989.
Sheila Washington, founder of the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, got the pardon effort restarted after the museum opened in 2010.
"I knew one day that justice would prevail, and it looks like that time has come," she said Thursday.