Nine black teens who were wrongly convicted of rape more than 80 years ago are set to receive posthumous pardons.
The nine "Scottsboro Boys" were accused of gang rape by two white women in Alabama in the early 1930s. With the exception of one boy, all were convicted by white juries and sentenced to death row. The allegations, however, were false. While they were eventually freed without executions, the boys languished for years in prison, missing out on opportunities for education, jobs, marriage and life in general. The last of the men passed away nearly 25 years ago.
Now, Alabama is trying to right past racial injustices and improve its reputation. The state House and Senate have voted unanimously in favor of a bill to posthumously pardon the teens. Governor Robert Bentley is expected to sign it.
While civil rights organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lauded the decision, they said that racial tensions still exist, and that there is more work to do.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous pointed out to the Associated Press that Alabama is currently involved in a Supreme Court case involving whether a section of the Voting Rights Act should be upheld.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires places with a history of discrimination, including Shelby County, Alabama, to obtain preclearance before altering their voting laws. Shelby County says the law unfairly punishes them for past injustices, but voter rights groups, including the NAACP and a group of Latino advocacy organizations, say voters who don't speak English as a first language continue to be discriminated against, and that voter-roll purges unfairly target minorities.
"Unfortunately," Jealous told the AP, "Alabama still needs to consider its present."
Most of the places that still require the clearance are in the South. And while places like Shelby argue that the voter discrimination targeted by Section 5 is a thing of the past, other reminders of the South's troubled history still linger.
Just this month, numerous media outlets reported that students from a Georgia high school are still trying to pull off their first integrated prom. They're facing a backlash, and it's not an isolated incident. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted this week, schools have done little to stop the racism of segregated proms. They say it's outside their control since the proms are not official school events.
"Since the proms are private parties held off campus without any school funds, schools disavow any control over the events, which are organized by parents and students and reflect historic and lingering racial divides," the paper said.
The paper also noted that a good deal of planning and promoting for the proms happens at the schools.
In one incident, a Georgia television station reported last year that a biracial student was turned away from attending a "white" prom by police.