It took eight decades, but the last three members of the so-called Scottsboro Boys have been officially exonerated in the eyes of the law.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously Thursday to posthumously clear the names of Haywood Patterson, Charles Weems and Andy Wright. The three were among nine African-American men unjustly convicted by all-white juries of raping two white women in a series of show trials in 1931 and 1933.
The trials inflamed America at a time when the second-class citizenship of blacks was enshrined by law and tradition. The initial accusation by two white women was enough to garner the death penalty for eight of the nine defendants even though one of the accusers later recanted.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the death sentences and ordered new trials for the men. Rape charges were ultimately dropped against five of the nine in 1937, but Clarence Norris, Weems and Patterson were convicted of the charges once again. Wright’s trial ended with a hung jury.
Norris was pardoned in 1976 by Gov. George Wallace and the men who were pardoned last week were eventually released on parole after decades in prison. Their ultimate exoneration came after their deaths, when Alabama justice was finally delivered.