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Haywood Patterson was one of the original Scottsboro Boys, born in Elberton, Georgia on December 12, 1912. By the time he was fourteen, he was riding the rails, looking for work. He was 18 when he hopped on an Alabama-bound freight train with his friends: Eugene Williams, Roy Wright, and Andy Wright. Patterson admitted that he was one of the black teenagers who fought with white hoboes, who had tried to force them off the train, but the charge against him was rape, a capital punishment at the time in Alabama. The reason that he was charged with rape was that two white hoboes also on the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, accused nine black teenagers on the train of rape to try to avoid charges pressed against them.
After the first trial in which the nine Scottsboro defendants were tried in groups, Patterson became the point man in the subsequent trials. In March 1933 he was retried before Judge James Horton of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, with Samuel Leibowitz as lead defense attorney. That trial ended in a conviction and death sentence, but the judge set aside the conviction. The next trial, before Judge William Callahan, resulted in another death sentence.
A confusing series of filing deadlines was missed, and Patterson lost his right to appeal. However, in Norris v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the two cases were interrelated and strongly suggested for the lower courts to look into the Patterson case again.
While in prison, Patterson found he regretted skipping out on school. "I held a pencil in my hand, but I couldn't tap the power that was in it." However, he taught himself to read by using a dictionary and a Bible.
Patterson was not particularly well liked, by the other Scottsboro defendants (Clarence Norris swore he would kill Patterson if he had a chance), by other prisoners, or by the guards that ran the prisons. In Atmore Prison, he had to keep perpetually vigilant against physical and sexual assaults. To avoid the latter, Patterson himself became a sexual predator, and kept a "gal-boy." He lost faith in all things but one: "I had faith in my knife. It had saved me many times."
In February 1941, a guard paid one of Patterson's friends to kill him. The "friend" stabbed him twenty times, puncturing a lung and sending him to the brink of death.
After alternating between being a maniacal terror and a model prisoner, Patterson managed to get himself transferred to Kilby Prison and assigned to the prison farm. In 1948, Patterson made a successful prison break. Escaping to Detroit 1948, he was caught by the FBI in 1950, but the governor of Michigan, G. Mennen Williams, refused to allow him to be extradited to Alabama.
Still in Detroit, Patterson worked with a journalist, Earl Conrad, to write his autobiography. Scottsboro Boy was published in June 1950. In December of that year, he was arrested after a fight in a bar resulted in a stabbing death. His first trial ended in a hung jury; the second was a mistrial. After his third trial, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six to fifteen years. He served only one, as he died of cancer in jail on August 24, 1952.
- Annette Gordon-Reed, ed. (2002). Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History. Oxford University Press. p. 137. ISBN 9780195122800.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2010-12-17. playbill.com, 09 Dec 2010
- "Long Journey." Time Magazine Published 10 July 1950. Accessed 30 Apr. 2008.