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On March 25, 1931, a freight train was stopped in Paint Rock, a small town in Alabama. Nine young African-American men who had been riding the rails from Tennessee to Alabama were arrested. Two white women, one underage, accused the men of raping them while on the train.
Within a month, one man was found guilty and sentenced to death. A series of sensational trials followed based on the testimony of the older woman, a known prostitute. The prostitute was attempting to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act, which prohibited taking a minor across state lines for immoral purposes, like prostitution.
Although none of the men were executed, a number of them remained on death row for many years. The last defendant was released in 1950.
There are several striking parallels between Tom Robinson's trial in To Kill a Mockingbird and the Scottsboro trials:
|Took place in the 1930s in Alabama.||Occurs in the 1930s in Alabama.|
|Began with a rape charge made by white women against African American men.||Begins with a rape charge made by a white woman against an African American man.|
|The poor white status of accusers was a critical issue.||The poor white status of Mayella is a critical issue.|
|A central figure was a heroic judge, James Horton, a member of the Alabama Bar who overturned a guilty verdict against African Americans.||A central figure is Atticus, lawyer, legislator and member of the Alabama Bar, who defends an African American.|
|This judge went against public sentiment in trying to protect the rights of African American defendants.||Atticus arouses anger in the community in trying to defend Tom Robinson.|
|The first juries failed to include any African Americans, a situation which caused the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the guilty verdict.||The verdict is rendered by a jury of poor white residents of Old Sarum.|
|The jury ignored evidence, such as the women suffered no injuries.||The jury ignores evidence, such as Tom has a useless left arm.|
|Attitudes about Southern women & poor whites complicated the trial.||Attitudes about Southern women & poor whites complicate the trial.|