Scottsboro, Alabama: A Story in Linoleum Cuts / Edition 1

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In 1931, nine black youths were falsely accused of raping two white women on a freight train traveling through northern Alabama. They were arrested and tried in four days, convicted of rape, and eight of them were sentenced to death. The ensuing legal battle spanned six years and involved two landmark decisions by the Supreme Court. One of the most well known and controversial legal decisions of our time, the Scottsboro case ignited the collective emotions of the country, which was still struggling to come to terms with fundamental issues of racial equality.

Scottsboro, Alabama, which consists of 118 exceptionally powerful linoleum prints, provides a unique graphic history of one of the most infamous, racially-charged episodes in the annals of the American judicial system, and of the racial and class struggle of the time. Originally printed in Seattle in 1935, this hitherto unknown document, of which no other known copies exist, is presented here for the first time. It includes a foreword by Robin D.G. Kelley and an introduction by Andrew H. Lee. Mr. Lee discovered the book as part of a gift to the Tamiment Library by the family of Joe North, an important figure in the Communist Party-USA, and an editor at the seminal left-wing journal, the New Masses.

A true historical find and an excellent tool for teaching the case itself and the period which it so indelibly marked, this book allows us to see the Scottsboro case through a unique and highly provocative lens.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The prints have tremendous visual power...they constitute a progenitor of the contemporary graphic novel that artistically outclasses most current examples of the genre.”

-Booklist (July 2002)

The prints have tremendous visual power...they constitute a progenitor of the contemporary graphic novel that artistically outclasses most current examples of the genre.
Publishers Weekly
The largely suppressed Communist tradition in the United States comes to light in this time capsule of a book. Andrew H. Lee, a librarian at New York University's Tamiment Library, came upon a sheaf of 118 bound linocuts documenting the notorious Scottsboro case, in which nine black youths were framed for rape in 1931 and sentenced to death. Produced in 1935 with an introduction by New Masses journalist Mike Gold, the prints tell the story of the case with powerful social realist images and block text, conceiving it in terms of "white and negro toilers" "rising up against the tyrant master" and "the ruling class" in solidarity and outrage. The six-year legal battle that was forced largely by activists resulted in two Supreme Court decisions and the eventual release of the defendants those who had not died in jail or escaped. At present, nothing is known of Khan or Perez, who is presumed to be a printmaker. As the introduction by NYU historian Robin D.G. Kelly (Yo Mama's Dysfunktional!) makes clear, the book documents Communist and union mobilization around the case, and it testifies to a spirit of cooperation for justice that remains deeply relevant. (Aug.) Forecast: This book could be provocatively and meaningfully displayed with Tom Feelings's The Middle Passage, a darkly magisterial set of historical drawings; Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America; and with a recent eponymous catalogue of artist Laylah Ali's controversial, comic-like work, available from Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. (A book of artist Kara Walker's powerful silhouettes will be available from D.A.P. in October.) On the scholarly side, Philip Dray's At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, James S. Hirsch's Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy and David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory are three excellent recent books involving lynching. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In 1931, near Paint Rock, Alabama, during the depths of the Great Depression, police pulled nine African American boys between the ages of thirteen and nineteen off a slow freight train and arrested them. The young men-jobless, hungry, largely illiterate-were riding the rails, looking for work. On the same train were two white women, also seeking jobs. To avoid their own arrest for vagrancy, these women falsely accused the men of raping them. The young black men were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, and sentenced. Eight received the death penalty. The ninth, thirteen-year-old Roy Wright, received life in prison. The case of the Scottsboro Boys attained international importance through the intervention of interracial groups such as the International Labor Defense and the Communist Party USA. Acting together, black and white workers helped make the whole world aware of Southern rural injustice in the twentieth century. This remarkable volume reproduces more than one hundred linoleum prints by two unknown artists that tell the story of this landmark case of the American judicial system and its part in race and class struggle of the 1930s. Historian Robin D. G. Kelley contributes a clear and impassioned foreword, placing the Scottsboro case clearly in its historical context. Andrew H. Lee's careful introduction gives readers a special understanding of the symbolism and subtlety of these powerful and evocative graphics. This book will be a fine addition to American history collections serving older teens and adults. Illus. Appendix. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, definedas grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, New York University Press, 147p, Hansen
Library Journal
Found by Lee, a librarian at New York University's Tamiment Library, among the papers of Joseph North, Communist journalist and editor of the left-wing journal New Masses during the 1930s, this extraordinary graphic book from 1935 reproduces 118 linocuts illustrating the history of African Americans up to and including the Scottsboro trials. Little is known about artists Khan and Perez, and Lee's appears to be the only extant copy. Anyone familiar with the graphic art of Lynd Ward or William Zorach will recognize the quality and power of this collection of linocuts, a highly charged political indictment and work of art. The reproductions are excellent, and Lee and Robin D.G. Kelley provide background essays on the trials and the provenance of the book. This is a welcome addition to all collections to complement Dan Carter's Scottsboro, Linda C. Hults's The Print in the Western World, and Francis J. Kafka's Linoleum Block Printing. Highly recommended. [For an interview with Lee, see p. 140.] Anthony J. Adam, Prairie View A&M Univ. Lib., TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814751770
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 147
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew H. Lee is a librarian at the Tamiment Library at New York University.

ROBIN D. G. KELLY is Professor of History and Africana Studies at New York University and the author of Race Rebels and Yo Mama’s Dysfunktional!

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