The trials of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’

Leadbelly song

Scottsboro BoysAs the story goes, “No crime in American history– let alone a crime that never occurred– produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged gang rape of two white girls by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931.

“Over the course of the two decades that followed, the struggle for justice of the ‘Scottsboro Boys,’ as the black teens were called, made celebrities out of anonymities, launched and ended careers, wasted lives, produced heroes, opened southern juries to blacks, exacerbated sectional strife, and divided America’s political left.”

Britannica notes: “Despite testimony by doctors who had examined the women that no rape had occurred, the all-white jury convicted the nine, and all but the youngest, who was 12 years old, were sentenced to death.

“The announcement of the verdict and sentences brought a storm of charges from outside the South that a gross miscarriage of justice had occurred in Scottsboro. The cause of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ was championed, and in some cases exploited, by Northern liberal and radical groups, notably the Communist Party of the U.S.A.

Here’s a video from Ancient History, though it’s not so ancient.

SCOTUS notes: The trials and repeated retrials of the Scottsboro Boys sparked an international uproar and produced two landmark U.S. Supreme Court verdicts, even as the defendants were forced to spend years battling the courts and enduring the harsh conditions of the Alabama prison system.

One of the cases was Powell v. Alabama (1932), in which SCOTUS ruled that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied the right to counsel. This violated their right to due process under the 14th Amendment. “The Supreme Court overturned the Alabama verdicts, setting an important legal precedent for enforcing the right of African Americans to adequate counsel, and remanded the cases to the lower courts.”

The second, again overturning the guilty verdicts, was in Norris v. Alabama (1935). The “systematic exclusion of blacks on Jackson Country jury rolls denied a fair trial to the defendants… This second landmark decision in the Scottsboro Boys case would help integrate future juries across the nation.”

You can “meet” the individuals involved through the American Experience piece Who Were the Scottsboro Boys?

In 2013(!), Alabama posthumously pardoned three of them after 80 years, “essentially absolving the last of the Scottsboro Boys of criminal misconduct and closing one of the most notorious chapters of the South’s racial history.”


Here are the lyrics to the song Scottsboro Boys by Hudie Leadbetter, known as Leadbelly. Listen to the song.

There was a Broadway musical of this story in 2010. Music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb, who had done Cabaret and other successful shows. It ran for 29 previews and 49 performances. Watch the 2011 Tony Awards performance.

May rambling #2: Leterman, and Vivaldi’s Pond

James Taylor interview by Howard Stern on May 12

Mother Teresa.quote
You might want to bookmark this because it’s updated regularly: Who Is Running for President (and Who’s Not)? Most recently, it’s former New York governor George Pataki, who’s been out of office since 2006.

Obama To Posthumously Award “Harlem Hellfighter” With Medal Of Honor For Heroism on June 2, 2015. That would be Sgt. Henry Johnson, who I wrote about HERE.

On July 28th, 1917: Between 8,000 and 10,000 African-Americans marched against lynching and anti-black violence in a protest known as The Silent Parade.

“Playing the Race Card”: A Transatlantic Perspective.

The Milwaukee Experiment. How to stop mass incarceration.

The Mystery of Screven County by Ken Screven.

From SSRN: Bruce Bartlett on How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics.

Does Color Even Exist? “What you see is only what you see.”

The linguistic failure of “comparing with a Nazi.”

Vivaldi’s Pond by Chuck Miller.

Arthur is dictating the future, albeit imperfectly. Plus AT&T did a good job predicting the future.

Woody Allen On ‘Irrational Man’, His Movies & Hollywood’s Perilous Path – Cannes Q&A.

The Tony Awards for Broadway air on CBS-TV on Sunday, June 7. Some nifty theater links. Listen to songs from Something Rotten.

Lead Belly, Alan Lomax and the Relevance of a Renewed Interest in American Vernacular Music.

Trailer of the movie Love & Mercy, about Brian Wilson.

James Taylor interview by Howard Stern on May 12, in anticipation of Taylor’s new album release on June 16th, listen to HERE or HERE. A friend said, “it was Howard at his best. James forthright, thoughtful and plain honest.”

Why Arthur likes Uma Thurman by Fall Out Boy, besides the Munsters theme.

SamuraiFrog ranks Weird Al: 70-61.

For Beatlemaniacs: Spirit of the Song by Andrew Lind Nath.

The Day That Never Happened and Let’s Drop Beavers from Airplanes and Tater tots and termites.

Apparently Disney Used To Recycle Animation Scenes.

Muppets: Rowlf ads.

Of course, there’s a lot of David Letterman stuff. Here’s How Harvey Pekar became one of his greatest recurring guests. Articles by National Memo and Jaquandor. Or one could just go to Evanier’s page and search for Letterman.

EXCLUSIVE Preview: HOUSE OF HEM #1, a collection of Marvel comics stories written and drawn by my friend Fred Hembeck.

I love Rube Goldbergesque experiments.



The Ranting Chef’s Two-Timing Number One.

I made SamuraiFrog’s This Week in Neat-O, which is kind of…neat. And Dustbury shared the same piece.

Dustbury on Procol Harum.

I suppose I should complain, but it’s so weird. Twice now in the past month, someone has taken a blogpost I’ve written and put it on their Facebook page. The person has kept a citation to my original post, which I imagine could be stripped as it gets passed along. But I’m so fascinated someone would even bother to do so that I haven’t commented – yet.


Roger Green, Art Green’s grandfather, “was born and bred in Rangitikei, and ran the family farm, Mangahoe Land Company, during the 1960s until they put a manager on it in 1967.” (Arthur Green is in New Zealand’s version of The Bachelor.)

L is for Leadbelly

When my father would come to my elementary school to sing, he’d always perform the song Goodnight, Irene.


The Wikipedia post for Leadbelly starts “Huddie William Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician.” Truer words were never written. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence.

Huddie spent time in and out of prison between 1915 and 1934, including for killing a man. It’s almost certain that he got his nickname Lead Belly, or Leadbelly, while behind bars. In 1933, “he was ‘discovered’ by folklorists John Lomax and his then 18-year-old son Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm. Deeply impressed by his vibrant tenor voice and huge repertoire, they recorded him on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress.”

Possibly his best-known song was Goodnight, Irene; LISTEN to his take. The year after he died, The Weavers recorded a version [LISTEN] which “first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on June 30, 1950, and lasted 25 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1. The Weavers’ enormous success inspired many other artists to release their own versions of the song, many of which were themselves commercially successful.” When my father would come to my elementary school to sing, he’d always perform the song, causing my classmates to assume that I had a crush on the girl in my class named Irene – I did not – and that I had put my father up to it – I had not.

Here is Yahoo’s list of the ten best songs by Lead Belly:

10. Ain’t It a Shame
9. Blood Done Signed My Name
8. Gallis Pole – LISTEN HERE or HERE. You may be familiar with the cover, Gallows Pole by Led Zeppelin [LISTEN, I hope].
7. Midnight Special – LISTEN. A live cover by Creedence Clearwater Revival [LISTEN]
6. Bourgeois Blues – LISTEN HERE or HERE. LISTEN to a live cover by Taj Mahal
5. He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word – LISTEN
4. On a Monday – LISTEN HERE or HERE
3. In New Orleans (House of the Rising Sun) – LISTEN. You probably know the version by the Animals [LISTEN]
2. Black Betty – LISTEN
1. Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (In the Pines) – LISTEN. It was later covered by Nirvana.

My favorite song performed by Leadbelly, though, is We’re in the Same Boat, Brother [LISTEN]. “And if you shake one end, you’re gonna rock the other.”

Here are some more lyrics:

The Lord looked down from his holy place
Said Lordy me, what a sea of space
What a spot to launch the human race
So he built him a boat with a mixed-up crew,
With eyes of Black and Brown and Blue.
So that’s how come that you and I
Got just one world and just one sky.

Leadbelly songs that have been covered

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

Christmas is A-Comin’ by Leadbelly

Polite Scott’s Comic Book Cover Advent Calendar – 2012

My father had, and I currently own this album, pictured. It came out in 1960, I believe because I listened to it a lot.

The LP came out well after Leadbelly died, in 1949. I’ll have to write about him sometime. And it got me thinking about the song Christmas is A-Comin’ [LISTEN], which is very short, well under two minutes. There’s a much longer album, Leadbelly Sings For Children, which including all the songs on my album, plus several more; Amazon says it came out on CD in 1999. And it’s the cover of that album that shows up in the video.

And I have to wonder how the parents of those children would have felt if they knew the man entertaining them was a convicted felon. Wouldn’t happen today, but then, the man had a shot of redemption.
“Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”
~ Oren Arnold

Jack Benny Goes Christmas Shopping

Christmas Miracles

Potpourri of tunes

Hey, I know one of those guys in the front row

A flashmob medley.

Peanuts Christmas 1960 and 1961 and 1962 and 1963 and 1964.

Polite Scott’s Comic Book Cover Advent Calendar – 2012

There’s very little that Muppet videos cannot fix..

X is for Xenophobia

How do you feel about your own racism and xenophobia? Are you confident enough to declare “I’m not racist”?

So I was looking up xenophobia in Wikipedia, which lists this definition:
Xenophobia is the uncontrollable fear of foreigners. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “stranger,” “foreigner” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.” Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity. Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”…

A xenophobic person has to genuinely think or believe at some level that the target is in fact a foreigner. This arguably separates xenophobia from racism and ordinary prejudice in that someone of a different race does not necessarily have to be of a different nationality. In various contexts, the terms “xenophobia” and “racism” seem to be used interchangeably, though they can have wholly different meanings (xenophobia can be based on various aspects, racism being based solely on race ethnicity and ancestry). Xenophobia can also be directed simply to anyone outside of a culture, not necessarily one particular race or people.

Well, OK. I’m not sure if it is xenophobia or racism (or both) which led to offensive characterizations against the Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina. Or the renaming of food so as not to invoke people we don’t like. Or the absurd truthiness of this Comedy Central bit about Obama and his emotions.

At some level, I suppose I had gotten to a point where I had hoped xenophobia and racism were something of the past, such as one segment in this TV show from 1964, which like the Daily Show segment, is a parody. But I realized I was being silly. Xenophobia has lasted for millennia; why should modernism destroy it?

I’m reminded of the story of the good Samaritan. It’s significant because the injured Jewish traveler, passed by two of his “own people”, was helped by a member of a group poorly regarded, thus radically expanding the geography of “Love thy neighbor.”

At your leisure, check out If Gandhi was Palestinian. I don’t necessarily agree with every word, but the notion of trying to be in another’s shoes is appealing.

How do you feel about your own racism and xenophobia? Are you confident enough, as Greg Burgas is, to declare I’m not racist? Not even a little bit. I reject Avenue Q’s song ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’ completely.

But you really must read Roger Ebert’s take on the topic especially as it relates to his own personal evolution and development. A brief quote: “How do they get to be that way? I read this observation by Clint Eastwood: ‘The less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudice.'”

Interestingly, a couple of the comments to the Ebert piece mention a play and a musical I have seen in the last year. The play is To Kill A Mockingbird, based on the Harper Lee novel, where the slow breakdown in the racist society is embodied by a vigorous defense of the black defendant by Atticus Finch.

The musical is Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, specifically the song You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught. (Sidebar: Mixed-race marriages are on the rise in the United States.)

Ultimately, as Leadbelly (d. 1949) wrote and sang, We’re in the same boat, brother.

The Lord looked down from his holy place
Said the Lord to me, what a sea of space
What a spot to launch the human race
So he built him a boat for a mixed-up crew,
With eyes of Black and Brown and Blue.
So that’s how’s come that you and I
Got just one world and just one sky.

Through storm and grief,
Hit many a rock and many a reef,
What keep them going was a great belief.
That the human race was a special freight
So they had to learn to navigate.
If they didn’t want to be in Jonah’s shoes,
Better be mated on this here cruise.—Why—

We’re in the same boat brother,
We’re in the same boat brother,
And if you shake one end,
You gonna rock the other
It’s the same boat brother

Our last song – for I believe in the power of music – is Everyday People by Sly & the Family Stone, lyrics by Sylvester Stewart, a/k/a, Sly Stone.

There is a blue one who can’t accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Oh sha sha – we got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can’t figure out the bag I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah yeah

ABC Wednesday

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