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Born in Georgia, the son of a sharecropper, Haywood Patterson started riding the rails when he was fourteen.  “I was getting big enough to feel I must help out more,” he wrote in his autobiography Scottsboro Boy.  “I had in mind the dream I would bring home some money for my parents, help them out.” 

On March 25, 1931, 18 year-old Patterson was heading to Memphis to look for work on the Mississippi River.  However, just outside of Paint Rock, Alabama, he was pulled off the train and, along with eight other boys, charged with a crime he didn’t commit. 

Fiercely independent and strong-willed, Patterson was the center of controversy surrounding the Scottsboro Boys.  “I don’t tell people stories,” he later said.  “I tell the truth.”  Nevertheless, he was viewed as the most guilty and defiant of the boys.  Prosecutors chose him as their target after the initial convictions were overturned.  Patterson faced the most trials, four in all, and was found guilty each time.

Patterson entered jail illiterate.  “I held a pencil in my hand but I couldn’t tap the power that was in it.  I couldn’t write. I couldn’t spell.”  But Patterson was a quick learner.  “By the end of 1931, I got much confidence in my way with words so I prepared a Christmas gift for my mother, a letter by my own hand.” 

Throughout his time in prison, Patterson was an avid reader and letter writer. “The reason I took such an interest in learning was this:  I never believed I was going to die.  A condemned man who knows his time is up, he will not take up learning something new.  I have hope.”

Read more about Haywood Patterson at Scottsboro: An American Tragedy


JOSHUA HENRY is a Member of Jaradoa Theater Company and AEA. Broadway: American Idiot, In the Heights. City Center: The Wiz. Regional: American Idiot (Berkeley Rep Theatre), Godspell (Paper Mill Playhouse). Off- Broadway: In the Heights. Film and TV: Sex and the City (film) and “Kings.” Thanks to Station 3 Entertainment.


THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS begins performances October 7 and opens October 31 at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street).



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