In 1931, in the Scottsboro case, nine Black boys were accused of raping two Southern women in the state of Alabama. The boys were arrested and the National Guard was called out to protect the defendants while they were being held in jail on rape charges. An article written by The New York Times stated that the guardsmen had prevented a mass lynching. The local paper, Scottsboro Progressive Age, and citizens, considered the evidence conclusive with regard to their quilt.
Judge Hawkins, the local judge, assigned seven members of the Scottsboro Bar to represent the Black boys, and only one accepted the position. Judge Hawking was a member of the local community, and it was believed that his objective was to prevent a lynching, and not necessarily to sort out the truth.
The defendant’s attorney, Stephen Roddy, who was not a criminal law attorney, opened the defense case with a petition for a change of venue, based on the inflammatory news stories in the Jackson County Sentinel, and the Scottsboro Progressive Age publication, that Sheriff M. L. Wann had asked for the National Guardsmen.
The State responded by recognizing there was some evidence that the stories in the local papers affected the public opinion. However, the State chose not to grant a change of venue, nor was a mistrial granted based on the circus-like atmosphere in the courtroom during the trial. The eight Scottsboro boys were found guilty, and sentence to be handed down.
At the time of the trial the International Labor Defense of New York City demanded a change of venue, and declared that Judge Hawkins (who presided at the trial) would be held responsible for the boys’ fate. The Communist party, it was believed, used this case to gain the support of the Blacks for their own cause.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who had initially been interested in this case because it was receiving national attention, withdrew their support by the time of the appeal. This allowed the International Labor Defense (ILD) to use the case for its own cause. Walter White (a spokesman for Blacks in the United States for almost a quarter of a century), of the NAACP, and Clarence Darrow (a lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union), were credited with the success the case received at the appeal’s stage.