AFRO -AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS (All editions) July 13, 1935

Alabama Court's Frenzy to Lynch Him Disregarded Fact that Eugene Williams was only 13 and His Case Could be Tried only in Juvenile Court: He's 17 Now.

By Elizabeth Lawson

"My boy would have been in school today, but not having clothes even to go in, he went off to hunt work, and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair." This statement from Mrs. Mamie Williams of Chattanooga sums up the entire story of Eugene Williams, youngest of the nine Scottsboro boys. The sentence against Eugene was the first to be reversed. He was only 13 at the time of the Scottsboro trial, and the law of Alabama provides that persons under 16 must be tried in the juvenile court. But the law went unnoticed in the frenzy of Alabama's greatest lynch-holiday. Only after the International Labor Defense had fought, inside the court-room and out, against this illegal conviction, did the Alabama Supreme Court in 1932, reverse the sentence of death and remand Eugene Williams for a juvenile court hearing.

Family Poverty-Stricken
Among Chattanooga's poverty-stricken families, the Williams family was of the poorest. The father got only two days work a week; the house was gradually stripped even of its furniture. "My furniture man has got all my furniture except two beds and a table I made myself," Mrs Williams wrote in one of her first letters to the I.L.D. Without a chair or stove she cooked on the grate while it was cold, but now that it is so hot, and the grate is in the room where she and children sleep, she cooks out in the yard on bricks to keep from making a fire in the house.

Wanted to Relieve Strain
"I got one dime and my baby needs some teething medicine," she wrote, "but I got to spend it for food. I went to the relief for some clothes for my kids, ain't got the first piece yet." Eugene worried a great deal about the state of the family, and about the younger children. "If I leave her," he said to his mother, "it will mean one less mouth to feed." With Andy and Roy Wright, and Haywood Patterson, three of his closest friends, he hopped a freight out of Chattanooga. His mother saw him next in Kilby Prison, after he had been sentenced to die at Scottsboro.

Grew Up in Jail
Eugene has grown up in jail. One day when his mother visited him, he stood up to his full height behind the bars, and she wept. "Why do you want to grow up now, Eugene, in this place?" she said. The fact that Eugene is the youngest of the Scottsboro prisoners has had little weight with the jailers. They are reported to have tormented him, abused him, and even stolen from him the parcels which friends outside have sent. Last year a friend in Detroit sent him a package containing shoes and stockings. When no reply came, she sent him stamps, thinking that lack of postage might have kept him from answering. It was then that she got a letter thanking her for the parcels. To this letter the forged signature of Andy Wright was appended. The friend, who was familiar with Andy's handwriting, angrily exposed this attempt of the jailers to break the boy's morale by leading him to believe himself forgotten.

Mother Appreciative
Mrs. Williams, who has made a consistent fight for the freedom of all the boys, wrote the I.L.D.: "I am proud to know that my boy and the others are still alive today. I miss him so much. I miss his appearance at my home, and also the little things he used to do in making it easier at home for his mother. "But I often sit and think that he could have been in the clay if it hadn't been for the I.L.D. calling the workers from all parts of the world to fight for him." Eugene has never been tried again since the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the verdict against him, three years ago. But the Alabama officials have determinedly opposed every move of the I.L.D. to free him and Roy Wright on bail. Even in the case of this child, they know no mercy. Early in July, Eugene, together with Roy, will come once more before the authorities. The two boys will be brought into the juvenile court, before Judge B. L. Malone, of Decatur. The I.L.D. will defend them. Thousands of dollars are needed for the hearing. Roy and Eugene have passed their youth in jail, and now they must be freed.


Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: November 6, 2001
Contact: Terry Muse