Originally posted on Black America Web:
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In 1931, nine black boys were hitching a ride aboard the Southern Railroad freight train. The illegal use of the freight trains was a common mode of transportation for Depression-era workers, both white and black. News had spread that jobs were available in Memphis, so those in search of survival hopped on the Chattanooga train. The group included boys, ranging from age twelve to nineteen, some from Chattanooga and four others from Georgia. They were: Andy Wright, Willie Roberson, Charles Weems, Ozie Powell, Olen Montgomery, Eugene Williams, Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris and Roy Wright. They rode the car that included other white children and adults who were ‘hoboing’ to Memphis.
On March 25th, a fight broke out between the black and white kids. One of the white kids stepped on the hand of Haywood Patterson and a fight broke out. When one of the white kids named Orville Gilley was about to be thrown from the train, a black child named Haywood Patterson, grabbed his hand and saved his life. When the train stationed at Paint Rock, Alabama, the police and a mob of angry white men with guns were waiting for the black boys to arrest them. Apparently the train conductor had called in the fight prior to arriving. However, the boys were charged with raping two white women – Victoria Price and Ruby Bates – instead of fighting with the white kids. All the boys, except the youngest, were sentenced to death.