The next step has been accomplished in preserving the legacy of The Scottsboro Boys, nine Black teens who were wrongly convicted of raping two white women more than 80 years ago.
On Thursday, the Alabama Legislature voted 103-0 in favor of legislation that will set up a procedure to pardon the teens, according to the Associated Press. The state Senate also passed the bill 29-0 and Gov. Robert Bentley will sign it.
"This is great for Alabama. It was long overdue," said Democratic state Rep. Laura Hall of Huntsville, who sponsored the bill in the House.
The nine boys, ages 12 to 19 from Georgia and Tennessee, were arrested while hoboing on a freight train and accused of raping two white women who were also riding the train. An all-white jury convicted them and sentenced all but the youngest to death. In a new trial, one woman recanted her story and five of the men's charges were dropped.
Clarence Norris, who passed in 1989, received a pardon in 1976, but this exoneration would extend to those who died before him: Andy and Roy Wright, Haywood Patterson, Olen Montgomery, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, William Roberson and Eugene Williams.
The Associated Press reports:
"You can't change history," said House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a Republican. "But you can take steps to right the wrongs of the past. The fact that this passed unanimously shows that today's 21st century Alabama is far removed from the one that caused such pain for so many so long ago."
That distance is still being measured.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, applauded the correction of "an historic miscarriage of justice." But he noted that Alabama is involved in a Supreme Court case over the Voting Rights Act and has passed laws that critics say are discriminatory against immigrants in the country illegally.
"Like so many communities that have had tried to move beyond their ugliest chapters, Alabama has learned you can only move forward if you are honest about your past," Jealous said. "It's heartening that this was a unanimous vote."
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(Photo: AP Photo, File)