Although I am a retired American history teacher, I really didn't know all that much about the so-called 'Scottsboro Boys'--and so I was very interested in seeing this episode of "The American Experience". After seeing it, it made me feel quite sad...but also affirmed how far we've come since then. Of course, with all the hubbub now going on about Trayvon Martin case, it seems we still have a bit to go.
Back in 1931, a group of Black teenagers were accused of rape. There were MANY reasons to doubt that this occurred and if a similar case came before the grand jury today, it never would go on to trial. But, back in 1931, the idea of a group of Blacks gang-raping a White woman fit the preconceptions of the times--especially in the deep South. So, instead of seeing the many inconsistencies in the case, the state of Alabama pushed headlong into prosecuting the case. Now SOME of this could initially be chalked up to emotions and a crowd mentality, but the case actually ended up being tried FOUR times--and the state just wouldn't let go of the case. The film is quite sad, as it seemed that the trial was, at times, less about determining guilt or innocence but about preconceptions and prejudices--not just towards Blacks but Jews and the North. Overall, it's a very fascinating but extremely sad case--one that might make you marvel at the times.
As far as the show goes, it did a great job of presenting the case and also doing a followup to discuss the ultimate fates of all nine defendants. I also appreciated how the men were not seen as saintly--they were just men--a few of which, it seems, became quite institutionalized and screwed up as a result of their time in prison. Sad, but very compelling.
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