Haywood Patterson, one of the “Scottsboro Boys” convicted in a criminal trial during the Jim Crow era, died 69 years ago on August 24, 1952.
He was 39 years old.
The former Detroit resident had suffered from cancer. Patterson’s life came to an end while he was serving a separate manslaughter sentence at Jackson Jail in Michigan.
Patterson was born in rural Georgia on December 12, 1912, to sharecroppers Claude and Jannie, according to official US Census records, and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn. As a teenager, he hopped freight trains from Ohio to Florida in search of work to help support his family.
Patterson, along with eight other African Americans aged 12 to 19, was arrested in 1931 in Alabama during the Great Depression. They were Olen Montgomery, Clarence Norris, Willie Roberson, Andy Wright, Ozzie Powell, Eugene Williams, Charley Weems and Roy Wright.
The nine people were charged with raping two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, on a Southern Railroad freight train traveling from Chattanooga to Memphis.
Boys and men were unemployed and looking for work, fought with White man and knocked them off the train. In revenge, the white men reported to local law enforcement that African Americans raped Bates and Price, who were seen as prostitutes.
The first of several trials was held in Scottsboro, Alabama, in the northeastern state.
Originally, eight of the defendants were sentenced to death by electric chair in 1931. Wright, who was 12 at the time of his arrest, was considered too young for this sentence.
The case, which was covered by newspapers across the country, was widely viewed as a miscarriage of justice and illustrated the racial discrimination that was often practiced by all-white juries against black defendants at the time. Often blacks were allowed to sit on the jury panel, but kept out in court and barred by prosecutors from sitting on the jury.
On May 5, 1933, blacks and whites marched through Washington, DC, with a petition signed by 200,000 calling for the freedom of the “Scottsboro Boys.”
Patterson was found guilty by an all-white jury in the first Scottsboro trial. At his second trial, held in Decatur, Alabama, in 1933, after his lawyer requested a change of venue, he said he had not seen the accusers.
During cross-examination, Alabama Attorney General Thomas Knight Jr., the Attorney General, said, “You were tried in Scottsboro? ”
Patterson said, “I was trapped in Scottsboro.”
Knight replied, “Who told you to say that?”
Patterson replied, “I told myself to say it.”
The United States Supreme Court has twice overturned Patterson’s death sentences. The other eight were later released from prison after Bates recanted, saying she initially brought the charge for fear of being jailed for vagrancy or prostitution.
Rape and race charges
A year before the Scottsboro Boys incident, J. Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, young African-American men, were lynched by a mob of thousands in Marion, Indiana, in 1930.
They were taken out of their jail cells, beaten and hanged from a tree in the plaza of the county courthouse. They had been arrested that night as suspects in a case of theft, murder and rape.
Between 1930 and 1972, 455 people were executed for rape in the United States. During that time, 405, or 89.1%, were black and 443 were executed in former Confederate states, according to the US Department of Justice.
During this period, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia did not execute any white men for rape.
Yet together these states executed 66 blacks. Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky and Missouri each executed a white man for rape during the period, but together they executed 71 blacks.
Ultimately, after appeals and four convictions, Patterson’s 1936 sentence was reduced to 75 years. He escaped from Kilby prison in Alabama on July 17, 1948.
After escaping from prison, Patterson headed north to Atlanta and then to Ohio. Ultimately, he ended up in Detroit, where two of the sisters lived.
“A cab took me to 1973 Sherman Street in Detroit, my sister Mazell’s home. My family rushed, “he wrote in” Scottsboro Boy,“ a book he wrote with journalist Earl Conrad. “The day after I arrived, my sisters prepared an excellent meal back home. The first good meal I have had since I was a boy. I tasted beer for the first time. I was 36 when I drank my first drink.
Patterson lived in the community of Black Bottom, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that was being condemned by city officials to make way for the residential development of Lafayette Park.
Between 1940 and 1950, Detroit’s black community doubled from 149,000 to 300,000, and was home to the largest local NAACP chapter in the country.
De Witt Dykes, associate professor of history at Oakland University, said that because the Black Bottom community was largely made up of African Americans who operated their own institutions such as shops, places of worship and cultural institutions, Patterson could have “blended in.”
“There were a large number of black businesses, black-owned and black-run pharmacies, restaurants, nightclubs, a concentration of churches of almost all faiths, many of which are run by blacks. “said Dykes. “He would find something similar in Tennessee and it was a black community that was intact. He could blend in with this community.
However, Patterson was captured by FBI agents in Detroit on June 27, 1950. On July 13, 1950, US District Judge Arthur Lederle rejected a fugitive warrant against him.
Michigan Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, a liberal Democrat, refused to extradite Patterson.
“Everyone else involved in the Scottsboro case was released from jail a few years ago,” Williams said. “I see no justifiable reason to send Patterson back to jail.”
While we can’t go back over what happened to the Scottsboro Boys 80 years ago, we’ve found a way to get things done. The graces bestowed on the Scottsboro Boys today are long overdue.
– Former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
“I feel good,” Patterson told the Detroit Free Press in 1950. “I want to settle down and be just one of the people.”
Less than six months after Lederle’s decision, Patterson fatally stabbed Willie Mitchell during a brawl at a Black Bottom bar. He allegedly tried to sell a copy of his book when the incident occurred. Patterson was later convicted of manslaughter for his role.
Patterson was buried in Detroit Memorial Park, a black-owned cemetery in Warren.
Clarence Norris, the last surviving member of the Scottsboro Boys, was pardoned by Governor George Wallace in 1976. In 2013, the Alabama State Parole Board voted to grant posthumous pardons to Patterson, Charlie Weems and Andy Wright, the three Scottsboro Boys, who had not been pardoned or had had their convictions overturned.
Then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, praised the parole board’s decision.
“While we cannot revisit what happened to the Scottsboro Boys 80 years ago, we have found a way forward,” Bentley said in a statement. “The graces bestowed on the Scottsboro Boys today are long overdue.”