Scottsboroby Ellen Feldman
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.
Set in 1931's Jim Crow South, Feldman's dramatization of the infamous Scottsboro case makes for bleak, if familiar, reading. Alice Whittier, an ambitious, crusading journalist at the left-wing New York City publication The New Order, covers the arrest of nine young African-American men in Scottsboro, Ala., for the alleged rapes of two white prostitutes. Four days later, the Alabama courts have tried and sentenced eight to die. With a keen sense of drama, Feldman follows the story as worldwide indignation grows, and the case bogs down in appeals and retrials before an eventual hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court. Through it all, Alice, the only woman journalist on the story, reports the events in gruesome detail, conducts her trust-funded life and quiets some rattling family skeletons. She emerges as a satisfyingly fleshed-out character, as does syphilitic, guilt-ridden accuser Ruby Bates. But the best thing about the novel is the detailed, matter-of-fact way in which it recreates Alice and Ruby's milieus-both of which are removed, in very different ways, from the world of the accused. What emerges is a raw sense of alienation and collision, with the novel's true protagonists mostly offscreen. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Feldman's latest (after The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank) might offer the most honest portrayal of the events surrounding the 1931 alleged rape of two white women by nine young black men on a train. Told from the perspective of Alice Whittier, a white female journalist from New York, the story not only offers a historical replication of the Scottsboro youth's imprisonment and unjust trials but also reveals the other players-the American Communist Party, attorneys, and journalists-who sought to gain from the acquittal or execution of the young men. Especially gripping is the painted humanity of Ruby Bates, the complainant who later recanted then reaffirmed her story. In conducting research for her articles, Whittier feels some pity for Ruby, who is as downtrodden as the accused, but is dejected when she realizes that she, too, seeks to exploit innocent men. This novel is not especially poetic, but Feldman's simple, eloquent phrases and realistic representation of the human condition make her book gripping and demonstrate a masterful control. Recommended for all libraries.
This fictional account of the Scottsboro case, in which nine black teenagers were accused of the rape of two white women, is told primarily from the point of view of journalist Alice Whittier, realistically imagined by the author. The facts of the case are true: eight of the young men were accused, tried, and sentenced to death in an Alabama court in 1931. There were many appeals, trials, mistrials, and recantations by one of the women while the accused languished for years on death row before their final acquittal by the Supreme Court. Alice Whittier reports on the events throughout the long legal ordeal. She interviews many of the participants, befriends one of the women, and learns from Ruby that she lied about the incident for fear of being charged with hoboing and prostitution. First-person accounts by Ruby, whose insecurity and low self-esteem are palpable, are interspersed with Alice's own story as an outwardly aggressive reporter plagued by her own lack of self-confidence and by middle-class guilt. The horrifying and irrational prejudices of the times-racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism-are clearly portrayed in a gripping narrative that will interest and appall students of social history, and lovers of courtroom drama will be fascinated by the legal machinations. Helpful appendixes sort out fact from fiction and list sources of interest, including autobiographies of three of the young men involved.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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- 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Meet the Author
Ellen Feldman is the author of the novels Lucy and The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank. She writes for the American Heritage Web site and is a sought-after speaker. She lives in New York.
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