Scottsboro: An American Tragedy Essay Questions
Section 2 – Complete after movie
Directions: Choose two of the questions below and write a short essay responding to each question. Your
grade will be entered into classroll as if it were out of 50 points. You can earn extra credit by choosing more
difficult questions that could total more than 50 points.
1.) During the Scottsboro case the Supreme Court ruled two separate times that the constitutional rights of
the Scottsboro boys were violated. What rights were violated and do you agree with the Supreme
Court’s decision? (25 points possible)
2.) In class we learned that the Sixth Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to due process but
the Scottsboro boys were American citizens and they struggled to exercise this right. How does race
make it more difficult to receive due process? If the Scottsboro boys had the right to due process how
could they be denied that right? (30 points possible)
3.) Pick one person from the case who you think is a villain and one person who you think is a hero and
explain why. Be sure to defend your choices with examples and specific details from the movie or class
discussion. (25 points possible)
4.) Leibowitz never won a single trial during his time with the Scottsboro defense team, however, he did
win important due process decisions for minorities. How was he able to win such important legal
victories for minorities without winning a single trial? Do you think he was satisfied with this result? (30
Scoring Rubrics for Essay Questions
10 – Fully answers each part of the chosen question,
provides evidence to support answers and conclusions,
provides background material to reader
7 – Answers each part of the chosen question but
provides little evidence to support answers and
Content: ________/10 conclusions, provides limited background information
5 – Does not fully answer each part of the chosen
question or no evidence is provided to support answers
and conclusions, provides no background information
to the reader
5 – Very few spelling and grammar mistakes.
3 – Some spelling and grammar mistakes but mistakes
Spelling and Grammar: ________/5 do not interfere with understanding
1 – Numerous spelling and grammar mistakes which
make the writing difficult to read
5 – Contains an introduction and conclusion, main idea
developed for each paragraph, strong use of history
vocabulary, demonstrates knowledge
3 – Contains an introduction and conclusion but they
are not fully developed, main ideas present in each
Organization and Style: ________/5
paragraph, some use of history vocabulary,
demonstrates some knowledge
1 – No introduction or conclusion present, no main idea
for paragraphs and limited use of history vocabulary,
demonstrates limited knowledge
5 – Writing has a clear focus, examples and details that
are used clearly support this focus
3 – Writing demonstrates a focus but wanders at times,
examples and details generally support the focus
1 – Writing does not have a focus, limited relationship
between focus, examples and details that are used
5 – Student takes a position and uses details from the
class and movie to support this opinion
Depth of Thought: ________/5 3 – Student takes a position but uses few details from
the movie or class to support that opinion
(Included in 30 point essays)
1 – Student does not take a position or they do not use
any details from the movie or class to support their
Total Score ___________/50
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,
by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed,
which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature
and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have
compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel
for his defense.
A Timeline of the Scottsboro Case
March 25: A fight breaks out between white and black young men who are riding as hoboes on a Southern
Railroad freight train. The white men are thrown from the train and warn the authorities farther down the line.
The train is stopped by an angry posse in Paint Rock, Alabama, and the nine black youths are arrested for
assault. Rape charges are added, following accusations from two white women who have also come off the
train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates. The accused are taken to Scottsboro, Alabama, the Jackson County seat.
White outrage erupts over the allegations, and a lynch mob gathers at the Scottsboro jail, prompting the sheriff
to call Alabama Governor Benjamin Meeks Miller. Governor Miller in turn calls in the National Guard to protect
the jail and its prisoners.
April 6-9: Before Judge A. E. Hawkins, eight of the nine boys are tried, convicted and sentenced to death. But
the case against Roy Wright, age 13, ends in a hung jury when 11 jurors seek a death sentence, and one votes
for life imprisonment.
April-December: Shocked by the speedy trials, the young age of the defendants, and the severity of the
sentences, progressive national organizations take up the Scottsboro case and call for the country to reject the
"Alabama frame-up." The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the
International Labor Defense (I.L.D.) court the defendants, their parents, and public opinion for the right to
represent the young men in an appeal, and raise money for their defense.
November 7: In Patterson v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the defendants were denied the right
to counsel, which violated their right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
January: The I.L.D. asks Samuel Leibowitz to take the case while acknowledging its inability to pay any fees. He
March 27: Haywood Patterson's second trial begins, this time in Decatur, Alabama, before Judge James Horton.
April 6: Ruby Bates appears as a surprise witness for the defense, denying that any rape occurred and testifying
that she was with Victoria Price for the whole train ride. Her assertion that she and Price were with boyfriends
the night before explains the sperm that Dr. Bridges found in his examination. It also helped explain why
Victoria Price showed few physical signs of having been forcibly raped by six men, as she had claimed.
April 9: Patterson is found guilty and sentenced to death by electric chair.
June 22: Judge Horton sets aside Patterson's conviction and grants a new trial.
October 20: The cases are removed from Judge Horton's court into Judge William Callahan's court.
November-December: The trials of Patterson and Norris proceed in Judge Callahan’s court.
June 12: Judge Horton is defeated in his bid for re-election.
June 28: The Alabama Supreme Court unanimously denies the defense motion for new trials. Leibowitz had
argued that qualified blacks were systematically kept off jury rolls, and the names that were currently in the rolls
had been forged after the fact.
February 15: Samuel Leibowitz makes his first appearance before the Supreme Court of the United States. He
describes the absence of blacks in Jackson County juries and presents the justices with the jury rolls with forged
April 1: In Norris v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court finds the exclusion of blacks on jury rolls
deprived black defendants of their rights to equal protection under the law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth
December: Because of the prevailing sentiments in Alabama, both Leibowitz and the I.L.D. are considered
liabilities to the defendants and the defense is reorganized. The Scottsboro Defense Committee (SDC) is formed
with Allan Knight Chalmers as chairman, and a local attorney, Clarence Watts, is named co-counsel.
January 23: Patterson is found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison. The sentence is a compromise
between the foreman, who thought the defendant innocent, and the rest of the jury.
January 24: While being transported back to Birmingham Jail, Ozie Powell pulls a knife and slashes Deputy Edgar
Blalock's throat. Sheriff Jay Sandlin stops the car and shoots Powell in the head. Both Blalock and Powell survive.
December: Prosecuting attorney Lieutenant Governor Thomas Knight meets Leibowitz in New York to negotiate
July 12-16: The third trial of Clarence Norris ends in a death sentence. Pressure from his community, and his
defeat in this case, causes Watts to fall ill, leaving Leibowitz to lead the defense.
July 20-21: The trial of Andy Wright ends in conviction and a sentence of 99 years.
July 22-23: The trial of Charley Weems ends in conviction and a sentence of 75 years.
July 23-24: Ozie Powell pleads guilty to assaulting Blalock and is sentenced to 20 years. Rape charges are
July 24: Rape charges against the last four defendants, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams,
and Roy Wright, are dropped.
June: The Alabama Supreme Court affirms the sentences given Norris, Andy Wright and Weems.
July: Governor Graves commutes Norris's death sentence to life imprisonment.
August: An Alabama parole board recommends a denial of parole for Patterson and Powell.
October: An Alabama parole board recommends a denial of parole for Norris, Weems and Andy Wright.
October 29: Governor Graves meets with the convicted Scottsboro defendants in his office to consider parole.
November 15: Governor Graves denies the pardon applications of all five Scottsboro defendants.
November 17: Weems is released on parole.
January: Andy Wright and Clarence Norris are released on parole.
September: Wright and Norris leave Alabama, in violation of their parole. Chalmers persuades them to return to
the South and, despite promises to be lenient, both are returned to jail, Norris in October 1944, Wright in
June: Ozie Powell is released on parole.
September: Clarence Norris is paroled again.
July: Haywood Patterson escapes from prison.
June 9: Andy Wright is paroled. He finds a job in Albany, New York.
June: Patterson is arrested by the FBI in Detroit; Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams refuses to sign the
extradition papers to return him to Alabama. Alabama abandons attempts to return him to prison.
December: Patterson is charged with murder after a barroom brawl.
September: Patterson is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 6 to 15 years.
August: Patterson dies of cancer.
August: Roy Wright dies.
October: Clarence Norris is pardoned by Alabama Governor George Wallace.
July 12: Victoria Price files a lawsuit against NBC for defamation and invasion of privacy after the broadcast of
Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys; her claim is dismissed.
January 23: Clarence Norris, the last of the Scottsboro Boys, dies.