By August 15, nearly three dozen African American males across the United States had been arrested in connection with the case. Even African American women were jailed as suspect. When an anonymous confession letter arrived, postmarked from Chicago and addressed to the "High Sheriff," several arrests were made in that city. The communist newspaper, The Southem Worker , published in Birmingham, referred to the aftermath of the triple shooting as a "reign of terror" that swept through the city.
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The newspaper accused local authorities of using the attacks as an excuse to terrorize African Americans, communists, and labor organizers. Authorities defended their raids on communist sites, stating that the city's saturation with "red" propaganda precipitated the tragedy.
An editorial in the Birmingham News hinted that communist had incited the murderer to action. Despite the numerous arrests, Nell Williams was unable to positively identify any of the suspects paraded before her. But six weeks after the murder of her sister and close friend, she identified Willie Peterson as their attacker as he walked along a Birmingham street. According to the Birmingham Post, Nell said that she recognized his battered gray hat.
Doubt about Peterson's guilt arose immediately after his arrest and only grew as more was learned about the suspect. He was a World War One veteran and former miner who lost his job after contracting tuberculosis. Peterson proclaimed his innocence, saying he had been under the care of local physicians for his ill health and had been in the process of trying to gain admittance to a government-run hospital when he was arrested.
Physicians at Kilby prison, where Peterson was taken after his arrest, confirmed that the accused was in the latter stages of tuberculosis and was an extremely sick man.
ACLU History: Scottsboro Boys
Local outrage over Peterson's arrest reached such a pitch that in the first week of October, Nell's family requested a face-to-face meeting with Peterson. Clark Williams, Nell and Augusta's father, told an official that he and his family wanted to get the matter behind them without their daughter having to endure the ordeal of a public trial. The request was granted and Nell, her family, and Jennie Wood's father, Wade, met with Peterson alongside the county sheriff, police chief, members of the solicitor general's staff, and several law enforcement officials in the Jefferson County jail.
As the officials interrogated Peterson, Dent Williams—Nell's brother and an attorney like his father—pulled out a gun and shot the suspect three times before the gun was wrested from him. The only visitors not searched before the interrogation were Nell and her mother.
Peterson recovered from his wounds, and his first words upon regaining consciousness were reportedly "I didn't kill the girl. Peterson' trial convened in December The defense called numerous witnesses, black and white, who testified that Peterson was either with them the day of the murders or was too weak to commit the crime. A mistrial resulted when the jury of twelve white men could not reach a verdict. The state brought on the equivalent of a hired gun as special prosecutor for the retrial—Roderick Beddow.
At the time, Beddow was considered one of the top criminal lawyers in the South. He was also a close personal friend of the victims' families. Judge Harrington P. Heflin, brother of Senator Tom Heflin, presided over the case.
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This time, the jury found Peterson guilty, and he received the death penalty. Governor Benjamin Miller's office was inundated with letters from across the state and the nation protesting the verdict. Surprisingly, most of the Alabama writers were white. Along with his questions, Leibowitz introduced evidence that Price had been arrested for adultery and fornication in January of The cases were repeatedly appealed and retried.
In lawyers for the International Labor Defense tried to bribe her to change her testimony, but she revealed the plot to the police. At four trials in Scottsboro, one before Judge Horton, two more in before Judge Callahan, and four more in , Victoria Price stuck to her story, refusing to budge under cross-examination, and each time the jury found the defendants guilty. After , four of the defendants were in prison for rape, one for assault and four others had been let free.
Price was no longer needed to testify and she faded into obscurity. In Price resurfaced. She returned to the witness stand for her suit and told her story for the twelfth time in a court of law.
How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people
In the end, her case was dismissed by the judge. She died in At the time she accused three black young men of raping her, Ruby Bates was seventeen years old. She lived, like Victoria Price, in a poor neighborhood of Huntsville and worked in the mills. Wages in were half what they had been just two years ago, and that was when work was available.
Scottsboro Boys - Trial, Case & Names - HISTORY
Although some Southerners believed racial segregation was present at all levels of society, that just wasn't true. In the poverty-stricken parts of Huntsville where Bates spent her time, blacks and whites played together, drank together, and even sometimes slept together. Bates, who was white, had once been arrested for hugging a black man in public; this incident indicates the difference between behavior that was present and that which was legislated against. Bates was the quieter of the two accusers, and was always more vague about what had happened on the train.
For the most part, she let Price do the talking and concurred with her version of events. At the first trial, in Scottsboro in , she confirmed the story they had told the posse at Paint Rock, Alabama, on the day they came off the train and alleged that nine black teenagers had raped them. In the letter, she denied having been raped.
The man who had the letter on his person claimed that he had been paid by the International Labor Defense to get Bates drunk and have her write the letter. Not long afterward, Bates disappeared. She wasn't seen for weeks. Then, in a surprise twist to Haywood Patterson's second trial in Decatur before Judge James Horton in , Bates appeared as a surprise witness for the defense. She testified that there was never any rape, and that the evidence of sexual activity from the examination of herself and Price was from the night before, when they had been with their boyfriends.
Under cross-examination, she was confronted with the conflicts in her testimony at Scottsboro, and becoming flustered, proved to be a poor witness. Furthermore, she was asked about how she had paid for the new dress she had on, and where she had been. Her answer, that her new possessions were bought for her in New York, convinced many that her testimony had been bought as well.
According to Bates, she had gone to New York with a friend. They met, and he convinced her to return to Alabama to testify. She was taken out of town by armed deputies and sent back north, where many people celebrated her courage and honesty. Among them were Communists, who asked her to speak at rallies for the case, including a March on Washington in with the parents of the defendants.