NONFICTION

Accused!: The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys: Lies, Prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment

Calkins Creek. Oct. 2019. 192p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781629797755.
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Gr 8 Up–The setting: 1931, Jackson County, AL. Nine black boys between ages 13 and 20 “hoboing” aboard a freight train were rounded up by a white mob, charged with raping two white women, railroaded through a hasty trial with lackluster representation, and sentenced to death. Aided by the Communist Party and NAACP, the boys appealed their case, all the while terrorized by their jailers, lynch mobs, and the looming threat of the electric chair. Their story garnered international attention and two landmark Supreme Court decisions regarding jury representation. Nevertheless, each retrial resulted in a new conviction and draconian sentence, and the accused never fully recovered. Tightly wound, compelling, and comprehensive, Brimner’s meticulously documented narrative re-creates the menacing atmosphere of Depression-era segregated courtrooms, atrocious carceral facilities, and a riven public. Extensive quotations offer a sense of each historical figure’s character, from the boys on trial and their accusers to the officials handling cases and the captivated press. The text is enhanced with plentiful photographs, period news accounts and ephemera, and helpful sidebars offering broader context. Brimner draws parallels between the Scottsboro boys and present situations, reminding readers how far we’ve come—and how we continue to come up short.
VERDICT This masterly account of an egregious episode in American history is (and will remain) vital reading. An essential acquisition.

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