The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center in Scottsboro, Jackson County, commemorates the lives and infamous trials of nine African American teenagers and young adults falsely accused of rape by two white women in 1931. The judicial proceedings surrounding the “Scottsboro Boys” represented a turning point in U.S. legal, political, and racial policies. The Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center tells the story of this episode of racial injustice.
Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center The museum was the founded through the efforts of local Scottsboro resident Sheila Washington in 2010, when the Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation purchased the former Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church. Since its founding, the museum has welcomed more than 10,000 visitors from some 13 different countries. Washington served as the chair of the museum and was an executive committee member of the Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation until her death on January 29, 2021. The foundation is the primary fundraising and support arm for the facility.
The defendants were held in Scottsboro during a series of three trials. Eight of the nine youths were convicted of rape and sentenced to death by all-white juries. The case was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered new trials for the defendants and also ruled in Patterson v. Alabama (1935) that African Americans had to be included on juries. Eventually, charges were dropped for four of the nine and sentences for the rest ranged from 75 years to life. All but two served prison sentences and all were either released or escaped, in one instance, by 1946. Alabama governor Robert J. Bentley exonerated all nine in 2013.
Washington, who first learned about the case as a teenager, spent 17 years working to bring the museum to fruition. Its current location is the former Joyce United Methodist Church building. The Jackson County Legislative Delegation and an anonymous gift donated through the Calvert Foundation provided funding to purchase the church. The center is located a short distance from the rail line along which the defendants’ train travelled and a few blocks from the courthouse where they first stood trial.
The museum showcases a growing collection of memorabilia related to the trial that were either donated to the museum or collected over time by Washington. Artifacts include locally compiled scrapbooks not previously viewed by Scottsboro scholars, a large metal table from the defendants’ cell in the Jackson County Jail, and a jury chair used in the Scottsboro trials. In addition, the center displays stamps sold by the International Labor Defense organization in the 1930s to raise funds for their defense, 1930s newspaper articles, and photos of the trials, including many unseen by the general public for decades. The museum works with the University of Alabama, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, and Alabama A&M University as well as prominent scholars of the Scottsboro case to develop educational programming and multimedia exhibits.
The museum is supported by the Jackson County Legislative Delegation, the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, the Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Events held at the facility include a celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in January and Black History Month in February. The center also observes the anniversary of the Scottsboro Trials in March and the Juneteenth Celebration in June, which includes vendors, food, and guest speaker. The museum holds an open house in December.
The museum is located at 428 West Willow Street. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the second and third Saturdays of each month and by appointment. There is an admission fee.