The Scottsboro Boys

Album: Let It Shine On Me (1936)

Songfacts®:

  • This contemporaneous song about the American tragedy that was the Scottsoboro Boys was recorded solo, and contains more raw power than any song from the Kander & Ebb musical. The Scottsboro Boys were a group of 9 black men accused of raping two white women in 1931. Their trial took place in Scottsboro, Alabama, where they were found guilty and sentenced to death, with the exception of the youngest defendant, who was just 12 years old.
  • Like these later songs such as "Financial Advice", this original Leadbelly composition can be interpreted as an attack on the Deep South or at the very least as a commentary on the sort of justice a black man could expect in a society dominated by whites. It has to be said though that if there was ever one black man who had no cause to complain about "white man's justice", it was Huddie William Ledbetter.

    In 1915, he served time on a chain gang after being convicted of a firearm's offense. In January 1918 he was jailed for a maximum of 30 years after killing a man in a fight over a woman. Seven years later he was pardoned after writing a song for Governor Neff, who had sworn never to pardon a prisoner. In 1930, he found himself back in prison after stabbing a white man, but was released in August 1934 to pursue a musical career having been "discovered" by the famous folklorist John A. Lomax, but in 1939 he was back in prison yet again, this time after stabbing a man in Manhattan for which he served an even shorter sentence. In view of his appalling record for violence he might have expected a very substantial prison term indeed, but after his release he managed to stay out of trouble until his death in December 1949. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2

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