In Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird, Claudia Durst Johnson explores how Tom Robinson’s trial in the novel bears a striking resemblance to the infamous Scottsboro Trials (c. 1930s), in which nine African American men were tried for the rape of two white women. This link includes an excerpt of Johnson’s book and links to historical documents, including testimony from the trials. Be sure to check out “Assignments & Activities” for ideas on incorporating the Scottsboro Trials into lesson plans.
“On March 25, 1931, several groups of white and black men and two white women were riding the rails from Tennessee to Alabama in various open and closed railroad cars designed to carry freight and gravel. At one point on the trip, the black and white men began fighting. One white man would later testify that the African-Americans started the fight, and another white man would later claim that the white men had started the fight. In any case, most of the white men were thrown off the train. When the train arrived at Paint Rock, Alabama, all those riding the rails-including nine black men, at least one white man, and the two white women--were arrested, probably on charges of vagrancy. The white women remained under arrest in jail for several days, pending charges of vagrancy and possible violation of the Mann Act. The Mann Act prohibited the taking of a minor across state lines for immoral purposes, like prostitution. Because Victoria Price was a known prostitute, the police were tipped off (very likely by the mother of the underaged Ruby Bates) that the two women were involved in a criminal act when they left Tennessee for Alabama. Upon leaving the train, the two women immediately accused the African-American men of raping them in an open railroad car (referred to as a "gondola") that was carrying gravel (or, as it was called, "chert").”