When Harper Lee was writing about the trial of Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she had a very real case to look to for inspiration. The trial of the Scottsboro Boys was a world renowned case in the 1930’s in which nine black youths were accused of raping to white girls in Alabama. Lee’s novel took this case and created the fictional case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a lower class white girl in a small town in Alabama during the Depression-era. The Scottsboro trials were the main source of inspiration for Lee’s novel, and although the circumstances of the novel differed from the real-life scandal, the similarities between the two cases are quite abundant.
The accusations made in the Scottsboro case by Victoria Price and Ruby Bates charged nine black boys with rape and assault. This is also true of the accusations made by Mayella Ewell and her father in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The situations presented are different, however. In the Scottsboro case, the girls said that the accused boys met them while hoboeing on a train car in Alabama. After fighting with and eventually discarding of a group of white boys, the girls stated that the black boys proceeded to rape them on the train car. Ruby Bates was a bit uneven in her accusations and seemed to be going along with whatever Price told the police. This is similar to what happened with Mayella Ewell in the book. After giving an unconvincing story about how Tom Robinson attacked her when she was home alone, it seemed obvious that Mayella was only trying to follow a story given to her, most likely, by her father. In both cases, the accusations are false, though the stories in the cases were believed at the time of the trials.
Both trials caused scandal and uproar. The entire country was swept up in the Scottsboro case; it was in newspapers all over the country. Whether they were supportive of the boys or pushing for the death penalty, everyone knew about the trials. Although we are...
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