On this day in 1931, nine young African-American men were arrested and falsely charged with raping two white women on a freight train near Paint Rock, AL. Known collectively as the Scottsboro Boys, the young men, who ranged in age from 13 to 21, were sentenced to death by an all-white jury in a trial that lasted just one day. The case drew support from the NAACP and public outcry against the wrongful convictions prompted demonstrations in Harlem, New York. The Supreme Court would eventually hear the case in October 1932 and rule that the boys lacked adequate defense, but it would be years until each of their names were finally cleared. The men collectively served 100 years in prison before the last Scottsboro Boy was released in 1950. The case remains precedent for controversial, racially-biased convictions and sentencing.
Also on this day, in 1931, activist and journalist Ida B. Wells died at age 68. She led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s and published striking commentary about the vicious crime in pamphlets titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases and A Red Record.
Additionally, in 1942, Aretha Franklin, best known as the “Queen of Soul,” was born in Memphis, Tennessee.
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(Photo: Courtesy of The Library of Congress)