Scottsboroby Ellen Feldman
Pub. Date: 05/20/2009
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Alabama, 1931. A posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths, ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls, dressed in men’s overalls, emerge from another freight car. Though they show no
Set in the 1930s South, this resonant novel of race and class turns on the awful power of a lie.
Alabama, 1931. A posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths, ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls, dressed in men’s overalls, emerge from another freight car. Though they show no signs of abuse, fast as anyone can say Jim Crow, the cry of rape goes up.
One of the girls sticks to her story. The other changes her tune, again and again. While the NAACP and the Communist Party vie to save the boys’ lives and make political hay, and a wily criminal lawyer renowned for defending underworld characters battles age-old prejudices, a young journalist fights to rescue the nine youths from the electric chair, redeem the girl who repents her lie, and make amends for her own past.
Intertwining historical actors with fictional characters and stirring racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism in an explosive brew, Scottsboro is a novel of a case and a cause that roiled the nation for almost half a century. No crime in American history, let alone a crime that never occurred, resulted in as many trials, convictions, reversals, and seminal Supreme Court decisions. It destroyed lives, forged careers, and brought out the bestand the worstin the men and women who fought for the cause.
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This story tugs at heart strings - the struggle for equality and the need for understanding of lower classes. The story is brought to life in this novel and makes tears and anger easy to come by if the reader has any feelings for the treatment of fellow man.
When Alice Whittier, a journalist for a left-wing publication in New York City, first hears of the arrest of nine young black men for the rape of two white women in Alabama, she is skeptical of the claims made by Ruby Bates and Victoria Price. But it is 1931 and Jim Crow laws are still going strong south of the Mason-Dixon line. While it soon becomes apparent that the 'Scottosboro Boys,' as the young men are dubbed, are innocent of the crime they are said to have committed, they are consecutively delcared guilty by juries full of all-white men. Even when New York City's Sam Leibowitz gets involved and Ruby starts telling the truth, it seems as though the Scottsboro Boys are doomed to head to the electric chair. Ellen Feldman's fictionalized account of the Scottsboro case is extremely rich in history and detail. It's obvious that she has taken painstaking care when conducting her research and her characterization is spot on. You can't help but sympathesize with Ruby Bates for all that she has been through and you soon discover that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Alice Whittier and her ambitions. I had never heard of the Scottsboro Boys prior to reading Scottsboro, so I found this book particularly interesting. Feldman writes in such a way that you learn much about the trial and the time period in which it was set, but it's not like I was reading a dry account of the events Feldman brings the case and the people involved to life.