Critique: the Scottsboro Boys – an American Tragedy

Last Updated: 23 Mar 2023
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The Scottsboro Boys: An American Tragedy The author or producer of this documentary film was smart in setting the scene for the viewer. He showed scenes of the area and described the sounds of the train, gravel, and attempted to give the viewer a snapshot of the attitude of the inhabitants of Northern Alabama. This takes you from the comfy surroundings of your home, the accessibility to transportation to the hardships of the 1930’s and the dismal state of life for blacks, especially poor blacks. The theme of Scottsboro: An American Tragedy was that blacks were so hated that one well-placed lie destroyed the lives of nine young men.

Only one of these boys lived long enough to have a family and to fight for a pardon. The judicial system of that time was so terribly flawed (not that it isn’t now) with racism and bigotry that when facts were presented they were not heard because they wanted the boys to be guilty. Clearing the Scottsboro Boys were not in the plan! The key players were the Scottsboro Boys but historians, relatives of Judge Horton, citizens of the area, photos, video clips, and newspaper articles all came together to tell the historical story which pned from the 1931 to 1976.

This may have been the best way to tell the story since none of the Scottsboro Boys were still alive when this was filmed. Several men of Scottsboro were interviewed and it was interesting that they wished the incident had happened 30 miles away (Huntsville) so the stigma that is associated with their little town would belong to another town. Jokingly, they said then they would have been called the Huntsville Boys and that would have been fine with us.

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So from those statements, I believe that many of the town’s citizens are embarrassed of the notoriety this incident has placed upon their little town. One aspect, I found missing and would have liked to known more of the effect that the trials and imprisonment had on their families, especially their siblings and mothers. I, however, was most intrigued with Judge Horton and the stand he finally took regarding the boys and the political fallout for him. The Scottsboro Boys case, how it began, handled, and ended is really scary to me.

Now that I know more of the details, it reminds me of the recent execution of Troy Davis of Georgia. In several ways, the two cases are similar. The tragedy in the Davis case is that he did serve around 17 years and he did die for a crime that he may not have committed while the Scottsboro boys served time and were eventually freed and/or broke parole. Due to support given them by northerners, they were allowed to remain free as long as they stayed in the North. Ruby Bates recanted her accusations of rape and later helped the mothers fight for the sons’ release.

Seven of the nine that testified against Troy Davis recanted but he exhausted all his appeals and was executed anyways against the number of organizations that protested against it. We can also go back a few months, to where a black woman was charged more time for jaywalking than the man that was driving drunk that hit her, her daughter, and killed her son. He was black but it since it was black on black crime, the young mother was treated as an example. In general, the judicial system is not a friend to the black American. This is 2011, isn’t it?

Has anything really changed? Are we going backwards? This is supposed to be a different day. We have a black president which, in my opinion, has only given certain groups in our country to more openly exhibit their racism and bigotry. Since they cannot get to him, any black that runs afoul of the law become enemy number one just as the Scottsboro Boys were the enemy of the time back in 1931. This film was not entertaining to me at all but it was educational and eye-opening in that no matter how much we like to think that times have changed so much is still the same.

I can see in many ways how far we have come but once you listen to the news and see just what is going on around you, you can almost see the 1930’s again. That is why I used the word “scary” earlier in my critique to describe the Scottsboro Boys story. Concern about the future for the black community, myself, and more importantly, our children, has increased and we must become better informed about the world in which we live, the judicial system we must work within, and the consequences of it all.

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Critique: the Scottsboro Boys – an American Tragedy. (2017, Feb 18). Retrieved from

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