Alabama’s parole board approved of granting posthumous pardons in the infamous “Scottsboro Boys” rape case on Thursday morning.
The board made the decision during a hearing in Montgomery for three black men whose convictions were never overturned in a case that came to symbolize racial injustice in the Deep South in the 1930s.
Nine black males were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train in northeast Alabama in 1931. The men were convicted by all-white juries, and all but the youngest defendant was sentenced to death.
The case became a symbol of the tragedies wrought by racial injustice. The Scottsboro Boys’ appeals resulted in U.S. Supreme Court rulings that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that blacks can’t be systematically excluded from criminal juries.
The case inspired songs, books and films. A Broadway musical was staged in 2010, the same year a museum dedicated to the case opened in Scottsboro.
Five of the men’s convictions were overturned in 1937. One defendant, Clarence Norris, received a pardon before his death in 1976. At the time, he was the only Scottsboro Boy known to be alive. Nothing was done for the others because state law did not permit posthumous pardons.
In April, the Alabama Legislature passed a law to allow the parole board to issue posthumous pardons for cases more than 80 years old where the convictions involved racial discrimination.
The three Scottsboro Boys considered by the parole board on Wednesday were Charles Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
The board said the other five, Olen Montgomery, Ozie Powell, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright, were not eligible under the new law because their convictions were overturned on appeal and the charges dropped.