Elias Schwarzbart, 88, the last surviving member of the...


November 12, 1995

Elias Schwarzbart, 88, the last surviving member of the New York defense lawyers who went to Alabama in the 1930s and made the Scottsboro Boys case a national symbol of racial injustice, died Wednesday at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. Samuel Liebowitz, a prominent New York lawyer, was chief counsel for the so-called Scottsboro Boys, nine black teen-agers who were convicted repeatedly of raping two white women aboard a freight train near Scottsboro, Ala., on March 25, 1931.

By the time Mr. Liebowitz was hired by the Communist Party to take over the case in January 1933, Mr. Schwarzbart and other party representatives had been in Alabama for almost two years doing research and preparing appeals.

Civil rights groups had declined to mount a defense campaign for the youths, though it had quickly become manifest that they were victims of fabricated charges.

Within two weeks of their arrest, eight of the nine defendants had been convicted and sentenced to death by four juries. The ninth case, against a 13-year-old, ended in a mistrial after conviction when one juror held out for life imprisonment rather than the death sentence. One defendant was convicted and sentenced to death three times. When, after his fourth conviction, he was sentenced to 75 years in prison, it was considered a triumph for the defense.

The case led to Supreme Court decisions that held that defendants in capital cases were entitled to legal counsel and that barred the systematic exclusion of black people from juries and grand juries.

Charges against five defendants were dropped. Four received long sentences and were eventually pardoned.

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