THE LAST OF THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS: An Autobiography by Clarence & Sybil D. Washington Norris


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In 1931, in a notorious miscarriage of American justice, nine black youths (aged 13 to 19) were convicted of raping two white girls on a freight train near Scottsboro, Alabama. With the help of the NAACP and ""communist"" Legal Defense Fund lawyers, their trials, retrials, and appeals went on for years while the Scottsboro Boys waited on death row. Now with the help of writer Washington, Clarence Norris, the last survivor, tells the story of his youth, his three trials and convictions, his 15 years behind bars (five on death row), and the life he made for himself when he finally jumped the parole confining him to Alabama slavelabor, constant harassment, and sure trouble. It is filled out with enough trial transcript to convince unfamiliar readers that Catch 22 in a racist courtroom is deadly. The happy ending is Norris' belated full pardon at age 64, received in 1976 from Governor George Wallace. But along the way there are predictably grim details of Southern sharecropping poverty, prison brutality and rape, and unrelenting frustration--and in Norris' later years as a supposedly law-abiding citizen in New York City, periodic incidents of violence. All of this is told in the curiously flat tone of one who learned too much in prison: his death row friends marched through the green door to the chair sometimes in wholesale lots. Of another ""Boy's"" permanent brain damage inflicted by a guard with a baseball bat, Norris comments: ""It was a goddamn shame."" (At least two Scottsboro Boys schooled to prison violence killed people after leaving prison; at least two others nearly did, and one killed himself.) There's a lot in this disappointingly unreflective account that Norris can't or won't go into--""I'd like to express myself better but my wisdom won't let me""--but what he does say warrants hearing.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1979
Publisher: Putnam