Haywood Patterson

Haywood Patterson
Haywood Patterson
Photo Courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives and History

Haywood Patterson was one of the nine Scottsboro boys, who were falsely accused of raping two white women while on a train in 1931.

It all started when a fight broke out between the white and Black groups near the Lookout Mountain tunnel, and the whites were kicked off the train. The whites went to a sheriff in the nearby town Paint Rock, Alabama, and claimed that they were assaulted by the Blacks on the train. The sheriff gathered a posse and gave orders to search for and "capture every Negro on the train.”

The Black teenagers were: Haywood Patterson (age 18); Clarence Norris (age 19); Charlie Weems (age 19); Olen Montgomery (age 17); Ozie Powell (age 16); Eugene Williams (age 13); brothers Andy Wright (age 19) and Leroy “Roy” Wright (age 12), who were leaving home for the first time; and Willie Roberson (age 16), who suffered from such severe syphilis that he could barely walk. This severe and painful medical condition should have proven Willie would not have raped anyone, but it did not. Due to the prevalent racism in the criminal justice system, Black people’s skin color alone convicts them. Only four of the Scottsboro Boys knew each other prior to their arrest.

There was no evidence, other than the women's testimony pointing to the guilt of the accused teens. Everyone in law enforcement suspected the women were lying to conceal their crimes of prostitution. The women faced the added risk of being arrested and prosecuted for violating the Mann Act, which prohibited crossing a state line "for immoral purposes."

The Scottsboro boys birthed a landmark set of legal cases that dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is commonly cited as an example of a miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

After Haywood Patterson’s first trial resulted in a death sentence from an all-white jury, a series of three appeals and retrials eventually resulted in a 75-year sentence. In 1947, Haywood escaped from prison and fled to Detroit, where the Michigan governor blocked his extradition to Alabama. Haywood was arrested in December 1950, after a bar fight that resulted in one fatality. This, new, first trial in Detroit resulted in a hung jury, his second in a mistrial, and his third in a manslaughter conviction. Haywood died of stomach cancer in prison on August 24, 1952. He was 39 years old. In 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles voted unanimously to pardon Haywood Patterson.

On November 21, 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted posthumous pardons to Charlie Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson, the only Scottsboro Boys who had not already had their convictions overturned nor received a pardon.