Stories of Scottsboro

STORIES OF SCOTTSBORO is a study of one of the most famous incidents in recent American history which garnered much attention not only in the United States but also abroad, coming to symbolize for many the deep racist character of American society, particularly in the South.

In 1931, after a freight train brawl between several young blacks and several young white hoboes in Alabama, nine young African American men, age thirteen to nineteen, were arrested and charged with raping two young white women, who were seventeen and twenty-one. The young men might easily have been immediately lynched; instead, they were quickly tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. The case achieved international notoriety because of the racial nature of the charges and the patent unfairness of the trial, at least to many outside the South. No African Americans had ever served on a jury in the area, and the defense attorneys provided little support to the defendants. American communists took up the cause through their party’s International Labor Defense group—initially the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was reluctant to get involved—and thus the case became a focus not only of America’s racism but also of the supposedly pitiless nature of capitalism and its perversion to the justice system.

What Goodman so brilliantly brings to STORIES OF SCOTTSBORO is not new facts of evidence of new interpretations but a new historical approach. Instead of relaying the story of the rape case through a single omniscient narrative—the traditional technique in writing history— Goodman, tells the varied stories of the many participants from their own perspectives in fifty- four brief chapters. The Scottsboro cases—there were several—were a travesty of the judicial system, but Goodman has created a brilliant work of history in his plural or multinarrative approach. Well written and well argued, STORIES OF SCOTTSBORO is a major contribution to the presentation of history.