This photograph is of a wall in the Sheriff’s office in Jackson County, Alabama. I was there because the county seat is Scottsboro, Alabama, where the most famous Civil Rights case of the 1930’s took place.
In March of 1931 a small scuffle occurred between a group of whites and some black teenagers riding the rails of a freight train traveling to Memphis. A local posse was organized, the train was stopped, and nine black “boys” were arrested. There were also two white women on the train, who quickly, and falsely, accused the blacks of rape. In the south, this accusation was often met with a lynching. But in the Scottsboro case, the teenagers were brought to jail, given a quick trial, and sentenced to death. After years in prison, waiting for their execution, a legal appeal spearheaded by Civil Rights lawyers from the north, was successful and the teenagers were freed after the women admitted to making their story up.
Some places that I visit for this series, you can feel the tension of history, and people are not always welcoming. But at that the Jackson County Court House, they could not have been more welcoming. A clerk looked up some old paperwork and told me where I could find the original courtroom where the Scottsboro trial took place. I photographed the chairs that the jury would have sat in, and then wandered around looking for something to catch my eye. In the Sheriff’s office was a wall of portraits of the past Sheriff’s of Jackson County. Located in the heart of the “black belt”, I immediately felt like it was a powerful symbol of American democracy, which for so many years was never a democracy at all.