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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

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Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

In March 1931, a freight train crowded with homeless and jobless hoboes left Chattanooga, Tennessee, bound for points west. A short time after it crossed into Alabama, a fight erupted between two groups of hoboes, one black and one white. The train was stopped by an armed posse in the tiny town of Paint Rock, Alabama. Before anyone knew what had happened, two white women stepped from the shadows of a boxcar to make a shocking accusation: they had been raped by nine black teenagers aboard the train.

So began one of the most significant legal fights of the twentieth century. Before it was over, the Scottsboro affair — so-named for the little Alabama town where the nine were put on trial for their lives — would divide Americans along racial, political, and geographic lines. It would draw North and South into their sharpest conflict since the Civil War, and yield two momentous Supreme Court decisions.

But for all its historical significance, the Scottsboro story is at its core a riveting drama about the struggles of nine innocent young men for their lives-and a cautionary tale about using human beings as fodder for political causes.

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