BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A decided change in public sentiment, favorable to the nine Scottsboro boys, is evident here as the date for resumption of trials in the five-year-old case nears. Thinking white citizens are expressing themselves openly in this regard, and the eagerness for a blanket death sentence, one apparent among the masses, is definitely diminishing. The new trials, scheduled for November 2, have been postponed until December or January, due to the illness of Judge W. W. (Speed) Callahan, 80, stocky, ruddy-faced and gruff of voice. Just why A. A. Griffiths, who shares the same judicial district, was not submitted is not clear.

Views Vary on Leibowitz
Dr. Henry E. Edmonds, pastor of the Birmingham Independent Presbyterian Church, and the head of the Alabama Scottsboro committee insist that Samuel Leibowitz will not be in command when the case is called. But Heywood Patterson, one of the nine defendants who three times has heard the death sentence pronounced upon him and last January was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison, says of the New York Attorney: I like Mr. Leibowitz; he's a good lawyer. He's been good to me, yes sir!" Patterson, incidentally, is the only colored man ever convicted on a rape charge in Alabama who receive any sentence other than death.

 

One Nearly Blind
Escorted through the jail by the warden, I saw a frail youth idling in the runway between two "bull pens" whom I took to be a trusty, but was informed: "That's Olin Montgomery [one of the Scottsboro boys]. He's wearing glasses-almost blind." He hung back and seemed reluctant to join us. I could tell his mind-or what was left of it-was ten thousands miles away. It was plain that he didn't want to talk to anyone. Passing down the corridor, the warden announced that we would see "some more of the Scottsboro boys." A trusty leaped to attention, thrust a key into a door and there was a buzzing sound. Colored lights like those in traffic signals flashed on and off and presently a small steel door about a foot wide opened. This permitted insertion of a key into the locks of the main door, a massive thing like that on a safe. This opened and we walked into a runway before half dozen cells. There, within reaching distance, were Heywood Patterson, Joe Crowell, Charlie Weems and Roy Wright.

Pathetic Scene
It was pathetic. It was amazing. And it was heroic the way those four boys bore up under the ordeal of talking to persons who enjoy the privileges of a "free world" outside the cold bars that seem to be their home indefinitely. "Come here Heywood," the warden ordered. Patterson unhestitatingly came to the bars and clutched them. He was immaculately attired, his hair was parted neatly in the middle and he talked with the accent of Northerner, although born and reared in Tennessee. He didn't seem to belong in his surroundings at all. It seemed he was in readiness to escort his best girl to a Saturday night ball. Asked whether he found it lonesome he replied: Yes sir, I certainly do get lonesome at time; it's mighty blue with nothing to do. There's very little a fellow in my position can do. I sleep a lot and I have my Bible that I read some every day without fail."

All Have Bibles
Friends have seen to it that each of the boys has a Bible. "No," said Chief Warden Pinson with a twinkle in his eyes, "Heywood stays around mighty close, I must say he does for a fact. Now you don't ever see him out running around going to ball games, picture shows and dances like some of the other boys his age. No sir, he stays around awful close." Whereupon Patterson looked around and indulged in a good-natured laugh. "One thing they've all got plenty of is time," the warden added. I found Joe Crowell in the best humor of all. He joked, wise-cracked and answered questions good-naturedly. But, toward the end, his smile sagged and he couldn't resist inquiring "When are we going to know something about ourselves - when's something going to happen?" Charlie Weems was different. He was sad. Wearing tortoise shell glasses and conducting himself with a quiet reserve, he might well pass for a minister of the gospel. Seated on the lower of two bunks, he seemed pre-occupied with writing a letter to someone.

Admires Joe Louis
On the top berth could be seen a box of writing paper, envelopes, newspapers, magazines and pictures. One of his prized possessions is a photograph of Joe Louis, the Detroit Brown Bomber in full fighting pose. It cheers Weems to look at Joe exuding confidence to conquer anything and everything for his race. Roy Wright was a pert young man who put questions to us as fast as we put them to him. He like Crowell, wanted to "know something about our situation." He, too, said he was satisfied with counsel.

3 Others Together
On another floor a cell block held three other Scottsboro defendants: Eugene Williams, Willie Robinson and Andy Wright. They had just finished their baths and were receiving attention from a barber attached to the jail. These boys were not so talkative as the other four, but they answered questions readily enough. Wright's mother has made a valiant fight in his behalf. In the hospital ward we found Ozzie Powell, who was shot in the head by a deputy last January, when he allegedly tried to cut one of his guards while en route to the Morgan County Courthouse for the trial. "Here's where the bullet went," Powell said, touching the spot with his finger, "unless you look very close you cannot see it. It was a close call though." In spite of Jefferson County's pride in its jail and the care of its prisoners, the nine Scottsboro defendants cannot maintain their normally healthy bodies with constant denial of nature's free gifts sunshine and fresh air.

Hard of Mind
Their limited quarters cramp their legs and the eternal sight of gray prison walls is enough to cause their minds to snap. But a transition is underway, reports to the contrary notwithstanding. The desire to encircle their necks with ropes and throw the hempen strand over the nearest limb is not as apparent as it was. Sentiment is slowly but surely in favor of the nine boys

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: November 6, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse