The proposed "Scottsboro Boys Act" is more about symbolism than reality, but Alabama could use a positive symbol these days.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, would allow posthumous pardons for those falsely convicted of crimes because of their race.
The bill's focus is on the infamous Scottsboro trials, but other posthumous pardons might result.
In 1931, Alabama was prepared to execute the black Scottsboro Boys because two white women claimed they were gang-raped.
The nine, from Tennessee and Georgia, went on trial in Scottsboro and were convicted by an all-white jury. All but the youngest received death sentences but later won new trials. One of the women recanted her story during a retrial in Decatur. Five of the Scottsboro Boys eventually had the rape charges dropped, while four were convicted during their retrials.
The trials left a stain on Alabama that still remains.
They also helped reform criminal trials by leading to U.S. Supreme Court decisions saying that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that prosecutors cannot systematically exclude blacks from juries.
In 1976, the only known living Scottsboro Boy, Clarence Norris, obtained a pardon from then-Gov. George C. Wallace and the state parole board.
There was discussion at the time of posthumous pardons for the other Scottsboro Boys, but state law prevented the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles from pardoning dead people.
Gov. Robert Bentley supports the bill, which appears to have broad support in the Legislature.
The Scottsboro Boys Act is an important acknowledgment of one of the ugliest periods in Alabama's history. It is an effort to tell both Alabamians and the world that the state has grown past its racist origins.
While we applaud Orr and Hall for pushing the legislation, their effort competes with legislative efforts that seem designed to reaffirm the state's reputation for intolerance.
Last year, in an amendment to the state's largely unconstitutional immigration law, the Legislature required state officials to post a list of alleged undocumented immigrants on a website.
The blacklisted individuals receive no notice when they are added to the list and no right to remove themselves from it.
To the world, and frankly to many Alabamians, it has the hallmarks of a lynching list.
Predictably, the amendment means Alabama taxpayers again will pay to defend a lawsuit. Four young immigrants, ticketed for fishing without a license, found their names on the website. They filed suit in federal court, and the spectacle is making international headlines.
If Alabama legislators want to help the state rise from the worst parts of its past, they need to pass more bills like the Scottsboro Boys Act and a whole lot fewer like the disastrous immigration law.
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