March 26th, 1931
In 1931, nine black teens riding a freight train north toward Memphis, Tennessee, were arrested after being falsely accused of raping two white women. After nearly being lynched, they were brought to trial in Scottsboro, Alabama.
Despite evidence that exonerated the teens, including a retraction by one of their accusers, the state pursued the case. All-white juries delivered guilty verdicts and all nine defendants, except the youngest, were sentenced to death. From 1931 to 1937, during a series of appeals and new trials, they languished in Alabama's Kilby prison, where they were repeatedly brutalized by guards.
In 1932, the United States Supreme Court concluded in Powell v. Alabama that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied adequate counsel at trial. In 1935, the Court in Norris v. Alabama again ruled in favor of the defendants, overturning their convictions because Alabama had systematically excluded black people from jury service.
Finally, in 1937, four of the defendants were released and five were given sentences from twenty years to life; four of those were released on parole between 1943 and 1950. The fifth escaped prison in 1948 and fled to Michigan. Clarence Norris walked out of Kilby Prison after being paroled in 1946 and moved north; he received a full pardon from Governor George Wallace in 1976.
March 26th, 1944
Mississippi: Six White Men Murder Black Minister, Steal Land
In the 1940s, Reverend Isaac Simmons controlled more than 270 acres of debt-free land in Amite County, Mississippi, that his family had owned since 1887, unusual among black families in the South, where racism and poverty had posed obstacles to economic advancement for generations. A farmer and minister, Reverend Simmons worked the land with his children and grandchildren, producing crops and selling the property’s lumber.
In 1941, a rumor spread that there was oil in southwest Mississippi. A group of six white men decided they wanted the Simmons’s land and warned Reverend Simmons to stop cutting lumber. Reverend Simmons consulted a lawyer to work out the dispute and ensure his children would be the sole heirs to the property.
On Sunday, March 26, 1944, the men arrived at the home of Reverend Simmons’s oldest son, Eldridge. The men told Eldridge to show them where the property line ran and he agreed to do so. While Eldridge and the men were riding out to the property line in one of the men’s cars, the men began to beat Eldridge and shouted that the Simmons family thought they were “smart niggers” for consulting a lawyer. The men dragged Reverend Simmons from his home about a mile away and began beating him, too. They drove both Simmons men further onto the property and ordered Reverend Simmons out of the car. The men shot him three times, cut out his tongue, and told his son he had ten days to abandon the family property.
Three days after the murder, Eldridge and the rest of the Simmons family buried Reverend Simmons and then fled their land. The killers took possession of the land and an all-white jury later acquitted the only one of the six men to face trial for the murder.
March 26th, 1966
Town Mayor, Others Beat Black Man in Beatrice, Alabama
On March 26, 1966, the Southern Courier, a newspaper documenting the civil rights movement, reported that, after driving in Beatrice, Alabama, Clarence David Stallworth was beaten and pistol-whipped by a group of whites that included the town mayor.
While Mr. Stallworth, a black man, was driving through the town, a white man in another car signaled for him to stop, saying that the passenger in the white man’s car wanted to speak with him. When Stallworth stopped his car and walked around to the passenger side of the other vehicle, Mayor T.A. Black got out and hit him in the head with a pistol while the other men in the car exited and began kicking and beating Stallworth. After the attack, Stallworth was refused medical treatment from several different hospitals before finally being admitted to a hospital in Montgomery, more than eighty miles away.
Members of the black community rallied to force County Probate Judge David Nettles to sign the warrants for the arrest of the men involved in the attack. Nettles initially refused, but relented after organizers threatened to initiate a mass protest in support of Stallworth.
“I honestly feel that I am committing a wrong here,” Nettles said when contemplating authorizing the arrests of the men who had beaten Mr. Stallworth. “[But] I'll sign that warrant tomorrow.”