Bourgeois Victory in Scottsboro
New Masses, June 1931
On March 25, 1931, nine African American boys aged 13 to 19 were falsely accused of raping two white women while traveling by train through the deep south. The subsequent trials were carried out immediately after in Scottsboro, Alabama. At the end of the trials, the all white, male jury sentenced eight of the boys to death by electrocution.
The “Scottsboro boys,” as they have come to be called, forced the nation to confront America’s history of racism and the denial of an African American’s right to a fair trial. Hugo Gellert’s cartoon from the June 1931 issue of New Masses appeared one month before the boys’ scheduled executions. The image shows the nine young men standing in prison jumpsuits, meeting the viewer’s gaze with pleading desperation. Attached to their heads are helmets from the electric chairs–a striking reminder of these boys’ fates if the courts do not overturn their decision. Gellert’s drawing, as well as other methods of protesting the Scottsboro decision, drew attention to the issue of the subjugation of black people in order to maintain a system of white supremacy in the South.