The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 5, 2013

Legislation would exonerate Scottsboro Boys

(Continued)

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.

Washington called the new legislative effort "a triumph for me."

"It's long overdue. It's almost 83 years old, but the case will never die as long as there is a courtroom to present justice in," she said.

The Scottsboro Boys' appeals resulted in two significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions saying that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can't be systematically excluded from criminal juries.

The leader of a group that looks out for the rights of minorities said providing pardons is important, but Alabama shouldn't stop there.

"It's equally important that we ask ourselves today: Are criminal defendants always provided with effective assistance of counsel? Today, are our juries chosen free of racial discrimination? Until we answer yes to both of those questions, the shadow of the Scottsboro Boys will continue to linger and continue to remind us of the importance of doing justice — not just in past times, but in our time," said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.

University of Alabama history professor Tom Reidy, who has written about the Scottsboro Boys, said they should be considered "the beginning of the modern civil rights movement."

State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said civil rights tourism has become an important part of the state's travel business, and the Scottsboro Boys museum is among the attractions promoted by the state. "A positive action like this improves Alabama's image and shows how far our state has come from the days of discrimination," he said.

Joining Orr in sponsoring the legislation are Democratic Reps. John Robinson of Scottsboro and Laura Hall of Huntsville and Republican Sen. Shad McGill of Woodville.

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