The Scottsboro Boys Commonlit Answers

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  • 8th Grade
  • Lexile: 1190

Source: The Scottsboro Boys by Jessica McBirney

Assessment Answers

QuestionAnswer
PART A: Which statement best identifies the central idea of the text?The Scottsboro Boys’ trials showed the enormous degree of racial inequality that existed in the United States’ criminal justice system.
PART B: Which quote from the text best supports the answer to Part A?“Alabama’s jury selection process was inherently racially skewed and violated Norris’ fourteenth amendment right.” (Paragraph 12)
PART A: What is the meaning of the word “inflammatory” used in paragraph 4?causing anger
PART B: Which detail from the text best supports the answer to Part A?“The judge scheduled the executions for mid-July, the earliest the law would allow.” (Paragraph 5)

“The trial was held in Scottsboro just two weeks after the arrests, and an all-white jury quickly recommended the death penalty for eight of the nine boys, all except 13-year-old Leroy Wright” (Paragraph 5). How does the quoted sentence contribute to the development of ideas in the text?

The quoted sentence “The trial was held in Scottsboro just two weeks after the arrests, and an all-white jury quickly recommended the death penalty for eight of the nine boys, all except 13-year-old Leroy Wright” contributes to the development of ideas in the text in several significant ways:

  1. Demonstration of Racial Inequality: This sentence directly illustrates the theme of racial inequality within the U.S. criminal justice system. The fact that the jury was all-white and the defendants were young African American boys in the Jim Crow South underscores the racial biases that influenced the trial.
  2. Speed and Fairness of Trial: The quickness of the trial (only two weeks after the arrests) raises questions about the fairness and thoroughness of the legal proceedings. It suggests a lack of due diligence and indicates a prejudiced rush to judgment, which is a critical aspect of the text’s exploration of justice and legal ethics.
  3. Severity of the Sentences: The recommendation of the death penalty for most of the accused highlights the severity and harshness of the punishments meted out in this case. It underlines the extremity of the injustice faced by the Scottsboro Boys, as such severe sentences for young teenagers based on dubious evidence was a glaring example of the miscarriage of justice.
  4. Age Consideration: The exception of 13-year-old Leroy Wright from the death penalty recommendation brings attention to the young ages of the defendants, which adds to the reader’s understanding of their vulnerability and the enormity of the injustice they faced.
  5. Contextualizing the Legal Environment of the Time: This sentence sets the stage for understanding the legal and social environment of the 1930s in the United States, especially in the context of racial relations. It helps the reader grasp the magnitude of the challenges that the Scottsboro Boys faced.

This sentence is crucial in building the narrative about racial injustice and the flawed legal system of the era, serving as a key example of the broader themes discussed in the text.

Discussion Answers

In your opinion, how are African Americans treated by the criminal justice system today? How have things improved and what do you think requires further attention?

I think African Americans are still facing challenges in the criminal justice system today, even though things have improved compared to the past, like during the time of the Scottsboro Boys.

Nowadays, there are laws that make sure everyone is supposed to be treated equally, and there’s more awareness about racial equality.

You see more diversity in juries and more African American judges and lawyers, which is pretty cool because it wasn’t like that back in the old days.

But there are still issues. Like, I’ve read about and seen on the news that African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police, and there are a lot of protests about police brutality. Plus, there are a lot of African Americans in prison, and sometimes it feels like the system is harsher on them.

I think what needs more attention is how police are trained to deal with different communities. They should understand the culture and not just assume the worst. And there needs to be more help for African Americans who get out of prison so they can get good jobs and don’t end up back in prison.

Education about racism and equality is also super important, starting from schools like ours, so everyone understands and respects each other more.


In the context of the passage, what is fair? How were the accusations made against the Scottsboro Boys an example of a flawed criminal justice system, and the overall unfair treatment of African Americans? What steps have been taken to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

Fairness in the context of the criminal justice system means treating everyone equally under the law, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. It also means having a fair trial, where the accused gets a chance to defend themselves with competent legal representation and an unbiased jury.

The accusations against the Scottsboro Boys were a clear example of a flawed and unfair criminal justice system. They were hastily judged by an all-white jury, which was common in the racially segregated South of the 1930s. The text mentions, “The trial was held in Scottsboro just two weeks after the arrests, and an all-white jury quickly recommended the death penalty for eight of the nine boys.”

This shows how quickly they were condemned without a fair chance to defend themselves. Also, the fact that the trials sparked outrage and a demand for social change indicates how widely recognized the injustice was.

The treatment ofthe Scottsboro Boys reflects the broader unfair treatment of African Americans at the time. They were often presumed guilty in the eyes of the law and society, faced harsher sentences, and were denied the basic rights of fair legal proceedings.

This unfairness is a key theme in literature and art, like in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which portrays the racial injustices of the American South through the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.

To ensure fairness in the criminal justice system, several steps have been taken over the years. The Civil Rights Movement led to significant legal changes, like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which aimed to end racial discrimination. In modern times, there are efforts to train law enforcement in bias awareness, and body cameras are used by police for accountability. Legal reforms aim to address the disparities in sentencing.

Additionally, there’s a growing emphasis on having a diverse jury pool and judges from various backgrounds to ensure different perspectives in the courtroom.

These steps show progress, but there’s still work to be done to eliminate racial biases and ensure complete fairness in the criminal justice system. This is evident from ongoing discussions and movements addressing racial equality and police reform in our society today.


In the context of the passage, how do people create change? How did the Scottsboro Boys bring attention to racial inequality in America, specifically in its criminal justice system? What changed because of this historic and tragic event? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In the context of the passage, change is often created through public awareness, legal challenges, and activism. The Scottsboro Boys’ case played a significant role in bringing attention to racial inequality in America, especially in its criminal justice system. Their trials highlighted the deep-rooted racial biases and injustices prevalent at the time.

The text mentions that “The trials of the African American teenagers went on for decades and began to carve out a path for racial equality in the U.S. justice system.” This shows how their prolonged legal battle shed light on the systemic issues in the justice system.

The public outcry and media attention their trials received were instrumental in raising awareness. It’s also mentioned that “the Communist Party USA decided to get involved to try to stop the executions.” The involvement of such organizations helped draw national and international attention to the case and the broader issues of racial discrimination.

Significantly, the Scottsboro Boys’ case led to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions: Powell v. Alabama and Norris v. Alabama.

These decisions acknowledged the necessity of competent legal representation and the unconstitutionality of excluding African Americans from juries. These legal changes were crucial in setting precedents for future civil rights advancements.

In a broader historical context, the Scottsboro Boys’ case is often seen as a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement. It inspired literature like Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which further educated the public about racial injustice in a compelling narrative form.

In terms of personal experience and observations, the legacy of the Scottsboro Boys can be seen in modern movements for racial justice and equality. The case is often referenced in discussions about racial bias in the legal system and the need for continued vigilance and reform.

It serves as a reminder of the importance of fair trials and equal representation in the justice system, as well as the power of public advocacy and legal action in effecting change.

Thus, the Scottsboro Boys not only brought attention to racial inequality in the American justice system but also spurred significant legal reforms and became a symbol in the fight for civil rights, impacting both legal precedents and cultural awareness.


In the context of the passage, what are the effects of prejudice? How did prejudice drive the opinions and actions of those surrounding the Scottsboro Boys from the moment they boarded the train until their final pardons? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In the context of the passage, the effects of prejudice are far-reaching and deeply damaging. Prejudice, especially racial prejudice as seen in the case of the Scottsboro Boys, leads to unfair treatment, injustice, and often tragic outcomes for those who are its targets.

From the moment the Scottsboro Boys boarded the train, prejudice was a driving force in how they were treated. The text explains that after a fight broke out on the train, the boys were accused of assault by white men, and then falsely accused of rape by two white women. These accusations were heavily influenced by racial prejudices of the time.

The fact that “two white women had also been hiding in the train car. They falsely claimed the nine black teenagers had raped them” indicates how quickly and unjustly the boys were accused, reflecting the societal prejudices against African Americans.

The prejudice extended to their trial, where “an all-white jury quickly recommended the death penalty for eight of the nine boys.” This not only shows a biased legal system but also reflects the societal mindset where African Americans were often presumed guilty and given harsher sentences. The fact that the trials and convictions were so swift further underscores the impact of prejudice.

The entire legal ordeal of the Scottsboro Boys and the subsequent public outcry also demonstrate the effects of prejudice. The public reaction, both negative (like the forming of a mob) and positive (such as protests against their convictions), show how deeply ingrained and divisive racial prejudice was in society.

In terms of literature and art, many works have explored the effects of prejudice, such as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which draws parallels to the Scottsboro case. The novel illustrates how prejudice can lead to false accusations and unfair trials, mirroring the real-life injustices faced by the Scottsboro Boys.

From a historical perspective, the effects of prejudice seen in the Scottsboro case reflect broader patterns of racial injustice in the United States, particularly in the Jim Crow era. The case had long-term effects, contributing to the Civil Rights Movement and the eventual dismantling of many legally sanctioned racial prejudices.

Overall, the Scottsboro Boys’ case demonstrates how prejudice can lead to miscarriages of justice, widespread social unrest, and the need for significant legal and societal changes. It’s a stark reminder of the devastating impact of prejudice and the importance of striving for a more just and equitable society.

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