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Last updated 5:07AM ET
February 28, 2021
'Scottsboro Boys' Jury List Found
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - If you are old enough, you remember George Reynolds operating a funeral home in Decatur.

You probably don't know defense attorneys listed him as a potential juror in the Scottsboro Boys trial.

Unknown to his family, Reynolds' name is linked to a Depression-era case that would put the Southern justice system on trial before a national audience.

Known as the "Scottsboro Boys" trial because none of the defendants were adults, the government accused nine black boys of raping two white women, a claim that one of the women recanted in 1932.

Seeking to bolster his argument that officials in Morgan County had "systematically" excluded blacks from jury rolls, New York attorney Samuel Leibowitz subpoenaed 31 black men in the second trial of Haywood Patterson.

Reynolds, a funeral home operator, was one of the men on Leibowitz's potential juror list.

"Wow," his daughter, Jewette Reynolds Cowan of Decatur, said. "I didn't know this. My father never said anything about this."

If archivist John Allison had not found the subpoena docket in the basement of the Morgan County Archives, Reynolds' link to the case might have been lost.

"This sheds new light on the case because here are the names of people that I have heard about, and I'm sure their families still live in Decatur," Allison said.

Allison said he is sure some historian might have seen the docket book because so much has been written about the case.

But, he believes they saw "just a list of names" and ignored the records.

"I immediately recognized these people as some of Decatur's most prominent citizens," Allison said. "This is what makes it real. These are Decatur men we know were qualified to be jurors."

Larry Sykes, who resides in Boston, knew that his father, Dr. Frank Sykes, had testified about black qualified jurors.

"Even though his money was generated in the Southern cotton economy, as a dentist, my father knew he had a responsibility to testify," he said.

His sister, Alice Sykes of Hyattsville, Md., visited the Decatur area in 2004 to research Dr. Sykes.

She said her father housed reporters during the trial, and the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in his yard.

Leibowitz also included Dr. Sykes' two brothers, Carl and Newman.

In his book about the case, author Dan Carter said 10 "intelligent" blacks who "employed good English" testified about qualified jurors in Morgan County.

He said Dr. Sykes gave the court a list containing the names of more than 200 men he believed were eligible for jury duty.

George D. Draper, a servant at a local hotel, was the youngest person Leibowitz subpoenaed. He was 25. At 62, William A. Irwin, a barber shop owner who lived on McCartney Street, was the oldest.

The list also included Dr. Arthur O. Sheffey, a drug store owner, and physician Dr. Newlyn E. Cashin. Nathan Washington, who named a son after the first president, was on the list. He and Mack Saxton worked as firefighters at the railroad shop near Vine Street.

"Leibowitz was very careful to pick men he knew were highly qualified," Allison said.

Patterson was one of nine black defendants indicted for raping Ruby Bates and Victoria Price on a Southern Railway freight train in Jackson County in 1931.

Saying the state failed to provide adequate counsel for defendant Ozie Powell, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the convictions in Jackson County.

The second trials were moved to Morgan County. And from the onset, defense attorneys argued that blacks had been excluded from the jury roll.

The prosecution denied Leibowitz's claim, and in 1933, Judge William Callahan agreed. He ruled against the defense motion to quash the jury venire.

The potential jurors Leibowitz said were qualified were mostly Decatur businessmen, doctors, teachers and two men who worked as firefighters at the railroad shop.

To avoid white intimidation, Leibowitz selected what he called "smart men" who had businesses or worked in the black community.

"His plan was to prove that these men should have been included on the jury roll," Allison said.

Sheriff A.W. Davis wrote that he issued subpoenas to the black men in April and November 1933. There is no evidence, however, that any of the men were on the jury roll.

The local paper recorded an entry about J.J. Sykes, a black man on the list who operated a Decatur theater.

While examining Morgan County Jury Board member A.J. Tidwell, defense attorney Joseph Brodsky of New York wanted to know why Sykes was not on the roll.

"He was badly crippled," Tidwell answered, "and there were other things."

Leibowitz and Brodsky also argued unsuccessfully that Callahan should quash the 1931 Jackson County indictments against the defendants because that county had also systematically excluded blacks.

As he did during most of Patterson and Clarence Norris' trials in Decatur, Callahan denied the motion.

Leibowitz got what he called a "triumph for American justice" when the U.S. Supreme Court said blacks' names were fraudulently added to the jury roll after the trial began. The court overturned Patterson and Norris' convictions.

In the years since, there have been movies made and books written about the case.

But none of the books has referenced the subpoena docket, leaving Allison to believe the book has been undisturbed for almost 70 years.

"This is real because these are the names of people we recognize, or we at least know their families," Allison said.

Photographers snapped pictures of Leibowitz looking at jury rolls in the courtroom.

Although they appear alike, Allison said he doesn't know if the book he found in the basement is the same one in the photographs.

The book also contains the names of state witnesses. Of note is an entry the sheriff made March 10, 1933. He reported that he could not find Bates to serve her a subpoena.

Bates recanted her statement in 1932 that she was raped.

"Some thought she was dead, but Ruby was in New York," Allison said.

Sometime before proceedings started in Decatur, the sheriff found Bates. He made another entry that he had served her with a subpoena in Madison County on Nov. 17, 1933.


Information from: The Decatur Daily,

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