More than eighty years ago, on March 25, 1931, nine young African Americans hopped a train in a Chattanooga freight yard and headed west. Unemployed and desperate for a better life, they were not unlike millions during the Great Depression. In Memphis, perhaps, there would be work. Instead, they found themselves joined together at the center of a life and death courtroom drama, falsely accused of rape. The Scottsboro Boys’ cases focused an international spotlight on Jim Crow in America in the 1930s. In 2013, Alabama legislators passed two bills, acknowledging that the men were “victims of a gross injustice.” One, a resolution, exonerated the nine defendants; and the other created a law making it possible to grant posthumous pardons to the Scottsboro defendants.
The Scottsboro Boys Museum University-Community Partnership began in 2010 as a collaboration between the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, and University of Alabama New College faculty and students to provide historical research for the museum. Students from New College, American Studies, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, the School of Library and Information Studies, and the Department of History assisted the Museum in creating a website
, researching and designing a map and brochure, and compiling historical information. The effort has been supported by UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility, the Department of History’s Summersell Center for the Study of the South, the Department of American Studies, and New College. The project received funding from the Partnerships-in-Scholarship program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Ford Foundation.
With support from a CCBP Award for Excellence in Community Engagement in 2012, UA faculty and students have continued to work with the museum, involving students in archival research at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH), identifying documents for a digital humanities project. The ADAH archive contains hundreds of letters, petitions, flyers, and telegrams sent to Alabama governors during the 1930s about the Scottsboro cases. In the spring and summer of 2013 these materials were collected, selected, and digitized with support from the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, the Ahlstrom Fund of the Department of American Studies, and the ADAH. The resulting online exhibit, "'To See Justice Done': Letters from the Scottsboro Boys Trials" is a collaboration between the Museum, the ADAH, New College, the Department of American Studies, and the Alabama Digital Humanities Center.
Project Collaborators: Ellen Spears (New College/American Studies), John Miller (New College), Franky Abbott (ADHC), Margaret Sasser (American Studies), Crissie Johson (SLIS/UA Press), Sheila Washington (Scottsboro Boys Museum), Debbie Pendleton (ADAH), Jim Hall (New College), Ann Hataway (New College)