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Morgan County Archivist John Allison found the jury docket that contains the names of black men who were not picked to serve on the jury in the Decatur trial of the Scottsboro Boys.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Morgan County Archivist John Allison found the jury docket that contains the names of black men who were not picked to serve on the jury in the Decatur trial of the Scottsboro Boys.

Boys’ record

Morgan archivist finds book listing names of potential black jurors for famous trial

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

If you are old enough, you remember George Reynolds operating a funeral home in Decatur.

You probably don’t know defense attorneys listed him as a potential juror in the Scottsboro Boys trial.

Unknown to his family, Reynolds’ name is linked to a Depression-era case that would put the Southern justice system on trial before a national audience.

Known as the “Scottsboro Boys” trial because none of the defendants were adults, the government accused nine black boys of raping two white women, a claim that one of the women recanted in 1932.

Seeking to bolster his argument that officials in Morgan County had “systematically” excluded blacks from jury rolls, New York attorney Samuel Leibowitz subpoenaed 31 black men in the second trial of Haywood Patterson.

Reynolds, a funeral home operator, was one of the men on Leibowitz’s potential juror list.

Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz represented Haywood Patterson during his second trail in Morgan County.
Photo courtesy Morgan County Archives
Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz represented Haywood Patterson during his second trail in Morgan County.
“Wow,” his daughter, Jewette Reynolds Cowan of Decatur, said. “I didn’t know this. My father never said anything about this.”

If archivist John Allison had not found the subpoena docket in the basement of the Morgan County Archives, Reynolds’ link to the case might have been lost.

“This sheds new light on the case because here are the names of people that I have heard about, and I’m sure their families still live in Decatur,” Allison said.

Allison said he is sure some historian might have seen the docket book because so much has been written about the case.

But, he believes they saw “just a list of names” and ignored the records.

‘Qualified to be jurors’

“I immediately recognized these people as some of Decatur’s most prominent citizens,” Allison said. “This is what makes it real. These are Decatur men we know were qualified to be jurors.”

Larry Sykes, who resides in Boston, knew that his father, Dr. Frank Sykes, had testified about black qualified jurors.

“Even though his money was generated in the Southern cotton economy, as a dentist, my father knew he had a responsibility to testify,” he said.

His sister, Alice Sykes of Hyattsville, Md., visited the Decatur area in 2004 to research Dr. Sykes. She said her father housed reporters during the trial, and the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in his yard.

Leibowitz also included Dr. Sykes’ two brothers, Carl and Newman.

‘Intelligent blacks’

In his book about the case, author Dan Carter said 10 “intelligent” blacks who “employed good English” testified about qualified jurors in Morgan County.

He said Dr. Sykes gave the court a list containing the names of more than 200 men he believed were eligible for jury duty.

George D. Draper, a servant at a local hotel, was the youngest person Leibowitz subpoenaed. He was 25. At 62, William A. Irwin, a barber shop owner who lived on McCartney Street, was the oldest.

The list also included Dr. Arthur O. Sheffey, a drug store owner, and physician Dr. Newlyn E. Cashin. Nathan Washington, who named a son after the first president, was on the list. He and Mack Saxton worked as firefighters at the railroad shop near Vine Street.

“Leibowitz was very careful to pick men he knew were highly qualified,” Allison said.

Patterson was one of nine black defendants indicted for raping Ruby Bates and Victoria Price on a Southern Railway freight train in Jackson County in 1931.

Saying the state failed to provide adequate counsel for defendant Ozie Powell, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions in Jackson County.

The second trials were moved to Morgan County. And from the onset, defense attorneys argued that blacks had been excluded from the jury roll.

Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz, who represented Haywood Patterson during his second trail, argued unsuccessfully that Morgan County systematically excluded qualified black jurors.
Photo courtesy Morgan County Archives
Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz, who represented Haywood Patterson during his second trail, argued unsuccessfully that Morgan County systematically excluded qualified black jurors.
The prosecution denied Leibowitz’s claim, and in 1933, Judge William Callahan agreed. He ruled against the defense motion to quash the jury venire.

The potential jurors Leibowitz said were qualified were mostly Decatur businessmen, doctors, teachers and two men who worked as firefighters at the railroad shop.

To avoid white intimidation, Leibowitz selected what he called “smart men” who had businesses or worked in the black community.

“His plan was to prove that these men should have been included on the jury roll,” Allison said.

Sheriff A.W. Davis wrote that he issued subpoenas to the black men in April and November 1933. There is no evidence, however, that any of the men were on the jury roll.

The local paper recorded an entry about J.J. Sykes, a black man on the list who operated a Decatur theater.

While examining Morgan County Jury Board member A.J. Tidwell, defense attorney Joseph Brodsky of New York wanted to know why Sykes was not on the roll.

“He was badly crippled,” Tidwell answered, “and there were other things.”

Leibowitz and Brodsky also argued unsuccessfully that Callahan should quash the 1931 Jackson County indictments against the defendants because that county had also systematically excluded blacks.

As he did during most of Patterson and Clarence Norris’ trials in Decatur, Callahan denied the motion.

Leibowitz got what he called a “triumph for American justice” when the U.S. Supreme Court said blacks’ names were fraudulently added to the jury roll after the trial began. The court overturned Patterson and Norris’ convictions.

In the years since, there have been movies made and books written about the case.

No references

But none of the books has referenced the subpoena docket, leaving Allison to believe the book has been undisturbed for almost 70 years.

“This is real because these are the names of people we recognize, or we at least know their families,” Allison said.

Photographers snapped pictures of Leibowitz looking at jury rolls in the courtroom.

Although they appear alike, Allison said he doesn’t know if the book he found in the basement is the same one in the photographs.

The book also contains the names of state witnesses. Of note is an entry the sheriff made March 10, 1933. He reported that he could not find Bates to serve her a subpoena. Bates recanted her statement in 1932 that she was raped.

“Some thought she was dead, but Ruby was in New York,” Allison said.

Sometime before proceedings started in Decatur, the sheriff found Bates. He made another entry that he had served her with a subpoena in Madison County on Nov. 17, 1933.

Black juror list

The following is a list of potential black jurors defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz compiled and presented to the court twice in 1933:

R.L. Hunter, George Reynolds, Dr. J.W. Wood, Alonzo Harris, the Rev. L.L. Wormack, Newman Sykes, Will Parter, Mack Saxton, Nathan Washington, Leeper Grump, Tom Garth, Rufus Carter, W.J. Wood, Dr. Sherrod (no first name listed), A.W. Davis, J.W. Tomlinson, J.A. Tidwell, Alias Hatton, W.D. Darden, Newlyn E. Cashin, J.E. Pickett, W.J. Wilson, Robert Bridgeforth, Arthur O. Sheffey, George D. Draper, Lee Murphy, Will A. Irwin, T.W. McWilliams, Dr. Frank Sykes, Carl Sykes and J.J. Sykes.

Source: 1931 Sheriff’s State Subpoena Docket, page 112.

Scottsboro Boys Chronology

  • March 25, 1931: Posse stops train in Paint Rock after Ruby Bates and Victoria Price accuse nine black boys of rape.

  • March 30, 1931: Jackson County grand jury indicts Clarence Norris, Haywood Patterson, Charlie Weems, Ozie Powell, Olen Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams, Roy Wright and Andy Wright for rape.

  • April 7, 1931: Eight defendants are convicted and sentenced to death. Roy Wright’s trial ends with mistrial when some jurors hold out for death sentence, although the prosecution seeks life sentence.

  • June 22, 1931: Pending appeals, the Alabama Supreme Court stays executions.

  • Jan. 5, 1932: In a letter to Earl Streetman, Ruby Bates denies that she was raped.

  • March 1932: Alabama Supreme Court affirms the convictions of seven of the defendants. Eugene Williams’ death sentence is reversed because he was a juvenile under 1931 Alabama law.

  • November 1932: Saying the defendants did not receive adequate representation, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the convictions.

  • January 1933: New York lawyer Samuel Leibowitz is hired to defend the boys.

  • March 27, 1933: Haywood Patterson’s second trial starts in Decatur with Limestone County Judge James Horton presiding.

  • April 9, 1933: Morgan County jury finds Patterson guilty and sentences him to death.

  • June 22, 1933: Judge Horton sets aside Patterson’s conviction.

  • Oct. 20, 1933: The case is transferred from Judge Horton’s jurisdiction to Judge William Callahan, a native of Lawrence County.

  • December 1933: Patterson and Clarence Norris convicted of rape and sentenced to death.

  • June 1934: Alabama Supreme Court affirms Patterson and Norris’ convictions.

  • April 1, 1935: U.S. Supreme Court overturns the convictions because Morgan County blacks were excluded from the juries.

  • Jan. 23, 1936: Patterson convicted for a fourth time and sentenced to 75 years in prison.

  • June 14, 1937: Alabama Supreme Court upholds Patterson’s conviction.

  • July 1937: Norris convicted of rape and sentenced to death. Andy Wright convicted of rape and sentenced to 99 years. Weems convicted of rape and sentenced to 75 years. Powell pleads guilty to assaulting the sheriff and sentenced to 20 years.

  • July 24, 1937: Roy Wright, Williams, Montgomery and Roberson were released after all charges were dropped.

  • Oct. 26, 1937: U.S. Supreme Court declines to review Patterson and Norris convictions.

  • July 5, 1938: Alabama governor reduces Norris’ death sentence to life in prison.

  • September 1943: Weems is paroled.

  • January 1944: Norris and Andy Wright are paroled.

  • October 1944: Norris returned to prison.

    ? June 1946: Powell is paroled.

  • September 1946: Norris paroled again and leaves Alabama.

  • July 1948: Patterson escapes from prison.

  • June 1950: FBI arrests Patterson, but Michigan governor refuses to extradite him to Alabama.

  • September 1951: Patterson convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six to 15 years in Michigan prison. He died of cancer in August 1952.

  • October 1976: Gov. George Wallace pardons Norris.

  • July 1977: Victoria Price’s lawsuit against NBC on a movie about the case is dismissed. She claimed the movie defamed her and invaded her privacy.

  • Jan. 23, 1989: Norris, the last surviving Scottsboro boy, died at 76.

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