In the long struggle for civil rights and racial equality in America, few episodes had the impact of the infamous Scottsboro Boys case. When nine black teenagers falsely accused of raping two women on a freight train were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, in 1931, white juries found eight of the nine guilty, and sentenced them to death. The widely condemned verdicts and the subsequent reversals, retrials, and hearings mobilized protests across the country and around the world.
In this pastel, Aaron Douglas, the leading visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance, portrayed Clarence Norris (left) and Haywood Patterson, whose convictions had been unanimously overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because of Alabama's exclusion of blacks from the jury rolls. Focusing on the essential humanity and dignity of the subjects, Douglas's moving portrait suggests his profound response to this soul-chilling miscarriage of justice.