By Ellen Feldman
Completed July 21, 2011
The Scottsboro case was one of many ugly marks in American history. During the 1930′s, nine young black males were arrested for raping two white women in Alabama. Despite weak evidence and a wavering testimony by one of the women, each man was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair. The case was an international outrage and was the most tried case in American legal history. And it provided the background for Ellen Feldman’s Orange Prize-nominated book, Scottsboro.
In the book, a young journalist, Alice Whittier, became fascinated with the Scottsboro case, and she convinced her editor to assign her to the trial. Alice was a feature writer at heart and didn’t waste time trying to get a human angle. She met each of the nine accused and talked to the two alleged rape victims. Alice could tell that one of the women, Ruby Bates, was lying about what happened. She took personal interest in Ruby, trying to convince her to do the right thing. For Ruby, though, doing the right thing was not an easy thing to do.
The book followed the case and its first appeal, when hot shot attorney, Samuel Liebowitz, agreed to defend the men. Feldman painted a picture of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism that permeated the entire trial. It was downright nasty. As I read the testimonies and court exhibits, I hung on to every word and move by the attorneys, judges and spectators. It was court drama at its best.
I can’t rave about Scottsboro enough. The Southern setting, social lessons and moving drama kept me at the edge of my seat. This is my first book by Feldman – but not my last. I highly recommend Scottsboro to anyone who likes to be riveted and moved by a great story. ( )