BALTIMORE, MD – The NAACP family mourns the passing of Melva Norris, Brooklyn resident and widow of the late Clarence Norris, the last survivor of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’. Mrs. Norris died on April 24 at the age of 82.
“On behalf of everyone at the NAACP, we extend our deepest condolences to the Norris family and offer our prayers, thoughts and sympathy during this time of loss,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Her love for her family, her contribution to her husband’s legacy, and her passion for social justice will not be forgotten.”
Mrs. Norris was the wife of Clarence Norris, one of the nine young Black defendants unlawfully accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. Known as the “Scottsboro Boys”, the NAACP, the Communist Party and the Internal Labor Defense, a legal defense organization associated with the Communist Party volunteered to represent the youths, with the IDL obtaining the rights to represent the nine youths. The Scottsboro Boys were convicted of rape by the all-white juries, and Clarence Norris was sentenced to death three times and spent 15 years in prison before he was finally found innocent by the Alabama Pardon and Parole Board in 1976.
NAACP lawyer James Meyerson was largely responsible for Norris’ pardon. He aided Norris in his efforts to erase the ‘Scottsboro Boy’ stigma, and was able to get the backing of Alabama’s attorney general to urge Gov. George Wallace to grant Norris a pardon. In an effort to describe the Scottsboro ordeal from his perspective, Norris also released his autobiography, entitled The Last of the Scottsboro Boys, in 1979.
“The legacy of Mrs. Norris and her husband Clarence evoke memories of a dark chapter in our nation’s history, which brought worldwide attention to the racial injustices present in the South during the 1930s,” said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “In the spirit of her husband’s devotion to ending racial discrimination and advocating for the misrepresented, the NAACP is honored to oversee Mrs. Norris’ funeral arrangements.”
Mrs. Norris is survived by her two daughters, Deborah N. Webster and Adele N. Middleton and her seven grandchildren. Her funeral service is scheduled for Saturday, May 1 at House of the Hills Funeral Home on 1000 St. Johns Place in Brooklyn, NY.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.