The Friday Song Is On Tuesday
‘The Scottsboro Boys’ was angry and contentious when it appeared in 2010 – shockingly so as the real-life miscarriage of justice that wrecked (and indeed, took) the lives of nine young black men falsely accused of rape was one of the last collaborations between John Kander and Fred Ebb before the latter’s death.
The Scottsboro Boys were nine young black men, falsely accused of raping two white women. Convicted and facing execution, their case sparked international outrage and succeeded in both highlighting the racism inherent in the American legal system and in overturning the conviction.
What had happened was this; On March 25, 1931, nine unemployed young black men, illegally riding the rails and looking for work, were taken off a freight train at Scottsboro, Alabama and held on a minor charge. Local deputies found two white women and pressured them into accusing the youths of raping them on board the train. Within two weeks the Scottsboro Boys were convicted by an all-white jury without medical evidence (there was an appeal and a second trial, with the same result) and eight were sentenced to death, while the youngest, Leroy Wright, aged 13, was given life imprisonment.
Controversially, their defence was mounted by the American Communist Party. One of the women gave in and admitted that they had been pressured into testifying, and switched sides. The other was a hooker who subsequently avoided the limelight. All served time despite being innocent. One was shot while being escorted to prison. The last one was pardoned in 1976, over forty years after the outrage. Incredibly, the Alabama parole board only granted the last pardons for miscarriage of justice in 2013. The full story is here.
Like ‘Cabaret’, which presented the rise of fascism within a cabaret format, and ‘Chicago’, which did the same for true-life murderesses, Kander and Ebb used the format of a minstrel show to highlight the race issues, with jolly upbeat songs about rape and electric chairs. The racism continues; despite earning a phenomenal 12 Tony Awards nominations, the play failed to win any at all. The play had a long, successful run in London. Here’s a song from it.