A dinner and informative program at Jackson County, Alabama's Goose Pond Colony in February will celebrate the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center's 10th anniversary and launch fundraising efforts to pay for renovations to better tell the story of the Scottsboro Boys' impact on the civil rights movement.
"I'm so excited about it," museum founder, director, coordinator and tour guide Shelia Washington said Monday. The Feb. 1, 2020, event is timed to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month and the opening of the museum 10 years ago.
"It took 35 years of me talking about it to get to where we are today," Washington said.
Sarah Stahl, spokeswoman for the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce in Scottsboro, said the museum seeks to tell the story of Scottsboro's part in the civil rights movement.
"Many artifacts and documents are displayed that substantiate the facts that this historical trial initiated the beginning of the civil rights movement as we know it today in America," Stahl said in a statement on the upcoming event.
IF YOU GO
What: Scottsboro Boys Museum 10th Anniversary Extravaganza
When: 5 p.m. CST Feb. 1, 2020
Where: Goose Pond Colony Civic Center, 1165 Ed Hembree Drive, Scottsboro, Alabama
Tickets: Advance tickets $25, $35 at the door
Advance tickets can be purchased by contacting the museum at 256-912-0471 or 256-609-4202, or by writing to: Shelia Washington, P.O. Box 1557, Scottsboro, AL 35768
The "Scottsboro Boys" were nine black teenagers from Chattanooga and parts of Georgia accused of raping two white women while traveling through Jackson County on a train in 1931. All but two were sentenced to prison, but in the years following the trial one of the two women said to be victims admitted the accusations were false, according to newspaper archives. In 2013, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed a resolution exonerating all nine of the Scottsboro Boys, and pardons were posthumously granted to all the defendants in late 2013.
Washington said the museum "was a dream of mine since I was 17 years old when I found a little paperback book hidden under my parents' bed" that told of the wrongful convictions of nine young black men by an all-white jury in Scottsboro, she said.
"Once I read that book, I knew at 17 that those boys weren't guilty," Washington said. "And then I had a brother to get killed in Kilby Prison — the same prison the Scottsboro Boys were in — in 1978.
"That moved me to the point where I said, 'One day, I will do something for the Scottsboro Boys, in memory of them and what they went through,'" she said. It took her a couple of decades.
When local officials were discussing a historic walking trail in 2000, Washington suggested including history of the infamous Scottsboro Boys' case but the idea got a chilly reception, she said, because no one really wanted to drag up such a dark time in the community's history. So Washington kept working until funding was directed the museum's way.
Finally, half the cost of establishing the museum in the circa-1876 Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church — the county's oldest standing black church — was funded by the 2010 Jackson County legislative body and a donation from a Jewish family with ties to the lawyer who defended the Scottsboro Boys, she said.
The museum, with a growing collection of memorabilia related to the trial, was opened in February 2010, saving the old church and preserving the history of the Scottsboro Boys at the same time. The church also has ties to Rosa Parks' husband, Raymond Parks, who came there working to start a NAACP chapter in the civil rights movement's earliest days, Washington said.
Washington hopes museum visitors leave with an understanding of the changes that grew out of the case to protect blacks' rights to due process of law.
She said she's happy about the coming renovations that add a dramatic courtroom scene depicting the players in the trial, more automation and technology, and added displays demonstrating the trial's links to other stories of that era in the South such as Harper Lee's book "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"The museum ran off and left me behind," Washington laughed Monday. "Now I'm trying to play catch-up."
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.