The Scottsboro Case and the Legacy of Law and Justice in Alabama

The Alabama Humanities Foundation (AHF) will pilot workshops for law enforcement professionals in four Alabama communities in spring and summer of 2017.  Each 8-hour workshop will provide information and foster scholar-moderated discussion about the legacy of the so-called Scottsboro Boys’ case – their wrongful arrests, incarcerations, convictions, trials, and pardons in Alabama in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The story and discussions of constitutional law cases resulting from the case help explain how we got where we are today in terms of persistent social, economic, cultural, and racial issues often dividing communities and presenting challenges in terms of police/community relations.

Local agencies may host the course according to a one-day or a two-day schedule:


AHF’s goal in piloting this course is to encourage Alabama law enforcement officers in their work and to aid in the development of leadership, decision-making, and skills necessary to accomplish their work throughout the communities they protect and serve. 

Over 85 years after the wrongful arrests, incarcerations, and convictions of nine young, African American male defendants now known as the “Scottsboro Boys,” their story – intertwined with that of law enforcement charged with their protection and the judicial system charged with administering justice — resonates vividly with current events related to law enforcement and access to justice.  The AHF workshop will provide background information on the story of the Scottsboro defendants, how their cases and the cause of their defense drew national and international attention, and how the court decisions associated with their defense continue to influence life and justice in the United States today. 

In addition to hearing from the lead scholars in the course – Professor Steve Brown of Auburn University and attorney Jim Lakey, a retired law enforcement officer with decades of policing experience in Alabama — attendees will hear from other speakers and engage in discussion about a documentary film to be screened during the course.  Participants will consider multiple facets of the Scottsboro case, giving particular attention to one judge, James E. Horton, Jr.  After he set aside a jury verdict in one defendant’s case and ordered a second re-trial, Horton was removed from the case by the Alabama Supreme Court and thereafter lost his bid for re-election, ending his career in the law. 

Prior to the workshop, participants will receive links to digital resources on the Scottsboro case and a list of suggested readings and films.

Pursuant to guidelines provided by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOSTC), the workshop will provide Continuing Education Units (CEUs) to participating law enforcement officers and administrators.

SESSION ONE (4 hours)

  • Welcome and Introductions** (30 mins), Laura Anderson, Alabama Humanities Foundation
  • Overview by Lead Scholar (30 mins), Professor Steven Brown, Auburn University
  • Documentary film screening (90 mins), Scottsboro: An American Tragedy
  • BREAK (15 mins)
  • Film discussion, Facilitated by Professor Brown (30 mins)
  • Legacies of the Scottsboro case (40 mins), Professor Brown
  • Closing remarks (5 mins)

SESSION TWO (4 hours)

    • Welcome back and introductions (5 mins)
    • Reflections on law enforcement’s role in this and other Alabama cases (55 mins) Attorney Jim Lakey
    • Discussion facilitated by Attorney Lakey (45 mins)
    • BREAK (15 mins)
    • Reflections on Judge James E. Horton’s role in the case (45 mins), Rebekah Davis, Limestone County Archivist
    • Discussion facilitated by Attorney Lakey (60 mins)
    • Course evaluation and closing remarks (15 mins)

** Refreshments will be provided throughout the sessions.  For one-day courses, lunch will be provided between 12:00 – 1:00pm.  For two-day courses, boxed lunches will be provided upon conclusion of the second session.

Humanities and Law Enforcement is offered at no cost to participants through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Registration is open to all law enforcement officers and agencies in Alabama. If interested, contact Laura Anderson, AHF Director of Operations, at 205.585.5323 or via email to