Big L
Tono Radvany for Ricky Powell

"Flamboyant:" How Rap Legends Remember Big L 20 Years After His Death

Twenty years after the murder of bubbling rap legend Big L, VIBE assembles a who’s who of rap staples to celebrate his life and discuss his legacy.

“L would tell me, ‘Look, man, I have half a day on Wednesday.’ So I’d go get him from school and hang out with him.” – Lord Finesse

This bit of benevolence is, admittedly, an atypical foray into the narrative of Lamont “Big L” Coleman, a rapper whose barbed bars and withering wit would slay friend and foe alike. But very little about the lamentably short life of Big L makes sense: the prodigious rhymes; the unwavering voice; the bionic cadence; the relative anonymity outside diehard circles; the untimely and unsolved death.


So, this lawful incursion by Lord Finesse, himself a general fittingly crossing a river – in this case, The Harlem – marked a territorial shift from rap’s cradle into affiliated incubator. But, quite appropriately, it was the metaphorical shift that rang truest: the passage of knowledge from sage to scion. “When I first heard L, I saw the future,” Finesse reveals. “If that was him imitating what I'm doing, then I’m blown away because of how good he was at that age. Like, I found the next dude. So I took him everywhere, and he watched my career unfold in real time: If I had an interview, he was there. If I had a show, he was there.” Indeed, he was: Funkmaster Flex recalls a show at the Apollo Theater in March of 1992, seeing a then-17-year-old L perform as a guest of Lord Finesse.

Though just 24 at the time of his slaying, and having unearthed only the tip of a creative iceberg, Big L managed to leave a Titanic wake. To celebrate his life, and to answer some of the questions still lingering now 20 years later, VIBE assembled a who’s who of rap staples: Diggin’ in the Crates architects and primary L producers Lord Finesse and Showbiz; D.I.T.C. compeer O.C.; radio stalwarts Funkmaster Flex (who admired the ascent of his fellow Bronx bomber, Finesse), DJ Eclipse, and Lord Sear, also a Harlemite; Sauce Money, himself a fierce MC who came up with famed Big L frenemy Jay-Z; sonic savant DJ Premier, whose throaty “Big L rest in peace” mantra kicks off Gang Starr’s “Full Clip.” Regrettably omitted: DJ Premier’s Big L impersonations, the rapid-fire articulation employed even, as Preem attests, when L was having a conversation.

ON HIS ATTRIBUTES:

Showbiz: Let me put it this way. Sometimes I used to have MCs who thought they were real nice come through the studio. I would sneak off and place a call to Big L, to have him pop up and embarrass them on the mic—to the point they didn't want to rhyme no more. “These guys think they nice, let me call L, like ‘I got 500 for you right now,’ he like ‘bet.’” I never used to want to, you know, tell dudes they was trash. I just would put 'em against Big L so they could see for themselves.

Lord Sear: The wordplay. The way he put words together. Take any topic. If he was going to rhyme about buying a drink at the bar, he would start with going up to the bar and flip it to: getting your girl, having her sit down while he plots “I’m gonna rob this person of everything he got,” going back to the chick, then leaving the spot with her in the whip; f***ing her; breaking out, going back to the club, rocking the party, bagging another chick. He had it like that and it all made sense.

Funkmaster Flex: People can get mad at me for saying this, but he was the best lyricist at the time. He was a better lyricist than Biggie and Jay-Z. He just didn’t have the marketing and promotion. Let me go on the record and say that. It’s the truth.

 

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Bars for days! Harlem Legend! BigL! Via: @laurensjdrawings

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Sauce Money: Big L was a monster. He had this voice that just cut through the music. I’m not even talking about his wit; let’s talk about his tone first. Now you factor in the flow, the wittiness, the cadence, he was almost like a shark. The perfect killing machine.

DJ Eclipse: He made the incredibly complex look effortless. Even moreso, he had that aura about him. You knew you were around royalty, you were around greatness. Every time he made a radio appearance, it was tape-worthy. He was who everybody wanted to see and hear; anybody he brought with him was secondary.

Premier: His best attributes were his voice and his delivery. I’m into voices and his sound was so New York. He was a wordsmith but it’s also how you say it. That’s how you convince people you’re dope. When Rakim spits, he’s so convincing that he’s not to be fucked with on the microphone. Big L had the same type of confidence. You need that to reign in a gladiator sport.

Finesse: His wit and his imagination in putting rhymes together. He'd take a punchline and go left field with it; you wouldn't even see it coming. From a lyrical standpoint, those are the most incredible punchlines. The key is to make you rewind. Big L’s rewind factor made you go, "Goddamn, wait up, he said what?" And you have to go back. You have to. He took the time to make it rhyme flawlessly and it’s just so masterfully put together.

ON HIS DISPOSITION:

O.C.: Exactly how he spoke and behaved in his every day is how his music came across. His shit sounded gangster but he was often joking; he was a funny, ironic dude. It was humor and he would take real-life situations and turn them into jokes. He had this genius about translating and interpreting what he saw. He’d sit around, laugh, joke, snap on people—but at the same time, he’d be soaking all that shit up. “Ebonics” is the best example; he took every slang word popping at that time and put it into a song. And if you listen to that record, every line is put together perfectly. The verses align perfectly. Ain’t no such thing as a perfect record—but it is.

Finesse: Demeanor? Comedian. L was straight comedian.

Showbiz: There wasn’t one time that L didn’t come around without a joke. I don’t know about no quiet Big L. I didn’t know that dude. And even though L was mad funny, he was sharp. He wasn’t the type to take 100 takes in the studio; L would know exactly what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. He’d go in there and do that joint in one, two takes tops. L didn't drink, smoke, none of that shit. His mind was always sharp.

 

ON WHAT WOULD’VE BEEN NEXT FOR L:

O.C.: The next album on deck after [O.C.’s own] Jewelz was supposed to be me and L. Showbiz had seen our chemistry on my single, “Dangerous.” So, without us knowing, he put a plan in motion: he told us to meet him at his spot around the corner from Harlem Hospital. He dropped a bag of money in our laps like, “Y’all gonna do this album. Let’s get to work.” The money caught us off guard, but we had big-ass smiles on our faces, like, “Shit yeah, let’s do it.” “Get Yours” was the first track we worked on; it wasn’t designed for the soundtrack [to the Jet Li movie Black Mask, on which the song appeared]. It ended up being the only song we got done. That experience always left a question mark over my head: how the album with L would’ve come out.

Funk Flex: [on the notion that L was going to sign to Roc-A-Fella Records] The Roc wouldn’t have been the best thing for him—matter of fact, I believe the Roc was gonna shelve L if they signed him. They were never gonna put that project out. They were scared of him. He was on that freestyle where he spanked Jay-Z, remember? [the legendary 7-minute freestyle between L and Jay-Z on The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Show on WKCR, for which Lord Sear was present. That back-and-forth was an extension of previous rhyme battles in Harlem]. I dare anybody to tell me different.

ON THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.’S “ONE MORE CHANCE” REMIX, WHICH FAMOUSLY – AND SUBSEQUENTLY – USED THE SAME SAMPLE OF DEBARGE'S "STAY WITH ME" AS DID L'S SINGLE "M.V.P."

Finesse: Of course, I think they jacked L. There was no doubt about it because that was L’s record, period: Everybody knew that. But that’s how B.I.G. was; if he wanted something he'd be direct about it: “I'm gonna take it and I'm gonna flip it my way.”

Funk Flex: Man, I remember this now! I remember being in the [legendary nightclub] The Tunnel when “M.V.P.” was starting to bubble. The guys from Bad Boy were in there every week and noticed that record gaining momentum. That sample was cranking in the clubs and it was such a big deal that L had it first. If you remember, the original album version of “One More Chance” was completely different. So Bad Boy jacked that DeBarge loop and remixed “One More Chance” on the fly. And I remember [L’s label at the time] Columbia telling me that was the last straw for Big L because Bad Boy stole his thunder, like ‘We don’t know how to combat this; they’re running with our loop.’

Showbiz: You might not believe this, but both L and I agreed that “One More Chance” was one of the best rap records ever. It was definitely a jack—Big L was performing with Biggie at a number of shows by this point. But Biggie took it, flipped it…and bodied it. Even L had to give it up to him; he was literally like “That’s the best rap record I ever heard.” In fact, and this goes against what people think of L’s “underground” identity, but L wanted to make those kinds of records. He wanted to rock, he wanted to go mainstream, he wanted to sell records. He knew he could do it all: ‘I'll burn you with lyrics, I can make boom-bap, I can make commercial.’ But he also knew he would have to find other producers to do it. I wasn't doing that shit.

ON HIS DEATH:

DJ Premier: I had this girlfriend visiting from Japan and we were actually having sex at the time. Cell phones had just started to appear but we all still had pagers. We were doing our thing and the phone kept ringing and the pager’s buzzing. I’m like ‘something’s wrong’ but I’m also focused on trying to turn her on. I called my man and he’s like, “Please don’t tell me Big L is dead.” So I called Finesse and his girl at the time picked up, told me he was sleeping. I was like “Aight, cool,” thinking it meant good news. Then she told me the truth: they’d heard L had died and Finesse didn’t want to talk to anybody. But when he heard it was me on the phone, he picked up. He said Showbiz actually rolled by and saw his body still lying there. It broke me up; it broke my heart. Still some of the most devastating news I’ve ever received.

O.C.: He was the youngest, so naturally he was like the little brother. Nobody expected that. It derailed the collective, put a black cloud over us. He was on his way to greatness. People tend to forget that the streets and the music business crisscross. And sometimes you get caught up. Some people are lucky enough to get past it. L wasn’t. Everybody was like, ‘See, I knew he was a gangster.’ Oh, so that’s why you murder somebody? You ain’t even know him! That’s why a lot of this R.I.P. stuff isn’t genuine, man.

Showbiz: We were all just numb. That was the last thing we expected. No one could have dreamed that L would be killed. Like, I went to see the body right after he got killed, I seen him there on the ground. The thing about it is this: you never meet someone with that type of creative source. I've never met anyone that brilliant at doing what he did; I’ve never heard it done that way. And I was just looking at him on the ground and thinking, ‘This shit is a shame, like how could a guy with this much talent be lying here?” The world didn't even get to see the full talent on display. L was in a class by himself. It was just crazy.

ON LEGACY:

Lord Sear: We need to talk about Big L more—not just on his birthday or the day he died. We need to hear his catalog more. We need to do a Harlem thing, with him leading the way: Harlem rap and what it meant to the culture. Everybody wanted to come to Harlem. Harlem was that shit.

Sauce Money: He’s the Gale Sayers of hip-hop: a short career but brilliant. He could’ve been one of the greats because he showed you those flashes of brilliance—who he could’ve been had he not been cut down before his time. He didn’t even scratch the surface of who he could’ve been.

DJ Eclipse: We were seeing L stand out as the go-to guy from the crew and you felt that presence. We all felt like he was on the verge: the guy who could balance what was going on in the streets, in the underground scene, and in the major label market. He was going to get to the mainstream and be like, “Yo, this is how it’s supposed to be done. You don’t have to sacrifice credibility or leave behind your standards.”

O.C.: L had his own path that people would’ve gravitated towards, pockets for different audiences. But these days, you got assholes online saying “He was cool but he was underground.” Shit, he sold half a million records dead! His album went gold before he was cold! Half a million records is not underground.

Showbiz: Lord Finesse never told me to look at another MC before L, and he hasn’t told me since. That sums it up.

 

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CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S 20 YEARS... We Miss You BIG L. Flamboyant 4 LIFE. Harlem's Finest. D.I.T.C. LEGEND! R.I.P.

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Erik Umphery

Meet Ebenezer, The Crooner Poised To Restore Soul Into Modern R&B

Ebenezer is a man of few words but the purveyor of a million feels throughout his music. Before the novel coronavirus left the singer-songwriter isolated in Los Angeles, the London-born artist was at the VIBE office in New York a few moons ago playing his latest project, Bad Romantic 2.

A few laughs fill the room but what really takes over is the boptastic tune "3 am in London." With a sample from Kandi Burruss's 2000 release "Don't Think I'm Not," we get a look into his creative process. After revealing his origin story in 2018 with 53 Sundays, Ebenezer returned with the Bad Romantic series. It's a title bestowed to him by the many women he's dated. As a songwriter, engineer, producer, and composer for himself a slew of other artists like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Stefflon Don, K-Pop faves SuperM and Craig David, love seemed to slip through the cracks. 

"I always try to make time," the crooner insists. He might not get love right all the time, but his determination to enrich modern R&B is a sword he's willing to fall on. While sharing stories behind cuts from Bad Romantic 2, a grin comes across his face as every tale is connected to love lost.

"It wasn't like there wasn't any lack of effort. It's just the way my schedule worked," he said about the making of "Flexible," a track bound to lead a quiet storm playlist. "I remember working so hard at the time that I was sleeping in the studio. I didn't have any money to go home [to London] so I had to work until something gave. I would mention how difficult it was but maybe she didn't understand the hustle or the grind at the time."

His hard work led to his latest single, "Flaws And All." The track speaks of his efforts to make love work no matter what, a notion anyone can relate to. As we continue to talk about love, one thing is for certain–Ebenezer is in love with creating. His eyes light up while breaking down each track and his shoulders ease up when he speaks about his versatility. In addition to the world hearing Bad Romantic 2, he's used social distancing to produce songs via his "Quarantine Studio Sessions."

 

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A post shared by Ebenezer (@ebenezersworld) on Mar 27, 2020 at 10:56am PDT

Below, get to know a little more about the elusive artist, the making of Bad Romantic 2 and some of his biggest inspirations.

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VIBE: With you producing at a young age, did you have support from your family?

Ebenezer: I'm a London boy but my parents are originally from Nigeria. They were on the run from immigration at one point but after things calmed down there was a big focus on education. They were like, "No you, can't. Education first." There would be big arguments and fights but eventually, I chose music. Or maybe it chose me? I started working and producing while on the phone with artists and things came together.

But I owe everything to my mum because she is the biggest cheerleader I've ever had. This woman had three kids and did everything to get by. She held it down. I had cousins who called immigration on us and they're supposed to be family–immigration comes kicking open the door and raiding the house. So I believe that the blessings I'm getting now are from God and our prayers.

What do you enjoy the most: producing/engineering or writing? 

I don't know if I can choose. I just use different parts of my brain for producing and writing. It is fun to split them up and bring them together at times.

What's your voice in R&B today? 

From childhood to the present, I've been in piece of s**t relationships and my songs reflect that. It's not be being vindictive to my exes. I take full responsibility for the things I've done and I try to be honest as I can in my music. The worst thing I could do is be one-sided.

There's that aspect of accountability missing in R&B these days so I get it. How is creating R&B-pop music for K-Pop artists? You worked with SuperM recently and it seems like they really enjoy the era of 2000s R&B. 

It's easier because they let you do whatever you want. You want a variety of harmonies because there's a lot of people in one group. But I like creating for K-Pop artists because you're able to let every individual stand out and have their own moment. It's dope they're adopting that sound.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

Kanye West for sure. My brother was a big hip hop head so I grew up on Rakim, Big L, Big Pun, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, but my decade has the Drakes and the Kanyes, so they were my biggest inspirations. College Dropout was the album that had me say, "I'm doing this music thing, I don't care."

My sister is a big R&B fan. She played a lot of Jagged Edge, Jodeci, stuff like that. So I was lucky to have the hip hop side and the R&B side presented to me all at once.

In addition to love and relationships, what else drives your creative process? 

It comes in stages for me. I like to make projects with a theme. For example, 53 Sundays was a project about growing up in London as an immigrant and the adversity we experienced racism and gang violence. It's how I overcame it and how my family dealt with it.

There's a lot of self-love in those songs because nothing is free, especially coming from having nothing. You have the Bad Romantic projects that are pretty self-explanatory in the title [Laughs]. I'm going to make it all tell a story so when you look back at the projects, it's a timeline and you'll see who I am.

What makes a "Bad Romantic and a "Good Romantic?" 

My exes are bad romantics. [Laughs]

So it's their fault? 

Nah, my exes would say there are some things that I'm good at and some things I'm terrible at. There are different love languages and what someone may require, I might not speak it. I like to provide gifts because growing up with nothing, you never want to see anyone without.

But I struggle with time because I'm always working and they had it. I have this thing called "The Okay Attitude." You can write me a novel in a text and I'll say, okay. Life expectancy for us is low as it is and we spend most of our time arguing about trivial things so if that's how you feel, that's how you feel.

And a "Good Romantic?"

Being attentive, caring, not being so selfish. I don't know, everyone is different. Some people require a lot. They say, "Shower me with gifts." But others say, "I just want your time, whenever you can afford it."

Unfortunately, I can't afford it.

What do you want listeners to get from your music?

That I'm just a bad romantic that's trying to better himself.

Stream Bad Romantic 2 here.

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Pony Boy

Slim Thug On His Coronavirus Diagnosis, Holistic Remedies And New Album, 'Thug Life'

Slim Thug, born Stayve Thomas, is a relatively healthy being. His daily regimen includes three-mile runs and keeping his diet in tip-top shape. Since he was 27, the rapper has battled high blood pressure and switched up his lifestyle for the better. Thirteen years later, the Houston native is hip to holistic methods like oregano oil to lower cholesterol levels, spirulina to reduce blood pressure and absorbing good vibes only.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported 1,303 people in the state have tested positive for novel coronavirus, one being Thug. The rapper and businessman was slighted after learning of his positive diagnosis on Tuesday (March 24).

Thug fell ill with a headache and a slight fever after running errands last week. While his symptoms were mild, his doctor provided him with a 24-hour test that confirmed it all. "Some people think I'm making it up," he tells VIBE over the phone Thursday (March 26). "Some people think I'm working for somebody, it's crazy."

As conspiracy theories permeate through social media, the 39-year-old is focused on keeping fans informed about the virus. His social distancing wasn't the best as he got a haircut a week before he was diagnosed, which is why he's firm on it today. "It's real and people should take it seriously," he said. "Especially for young people. You could pass it on, it could be deadly to somebody you love. You have to be a human and say, 'I have to protect others by not being reckless.'"

This hasn't changed Thug's plans to release his forthcoming album, Thug Life, Friday (March 27).  The veteran rapper who dropped classics like, "I Ain't Heard of That" and guest verses on Mike Jones' "Still Tippin," and Beyonce's "Check on It" wants his new music to be a safe haven for the times.

Released last week, his single, "This World" highlights today's ups and downs, with a telling sample from the late Charles Bradley.

The silver lining continues to glisten for the rapper. After sharing his diagnosis with fans, many began sharing black-owned businesses that specialize in holistic medicine. They include Soul Food Vegan and natural herbs from Jinka Premium.

In our conversation below, Slim Thug highlights the importance of social distancing, why rappers should stay connected to their fans and how the late Tupac Shakur inspired his new album, Thug Life.

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Just found out I got Corona virus

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VIBE: How have you been coping with this? Take me back to your initial thoughts when you found out all of this was happening.

Slim Thug: I was definitely surprised because I was trying to be precautious way earlier than a lot of people. I started to feel a headache and a fever and I've never had those symptoms so I thought, 'Man this Corona time, it's got to be something.' But at the end of the day, I haven't felt severe sickness or nothing.

I have high blood pressure, I already do this. I run three miles at the park and go to the gym every day, so I'm pretty healthy. You know, I never felt like I wouldn't be able to fight this off, I never really felt really sick or crazy sick, just kind of felt like a sinus infection.

With you being a healthy person, what has this told you about the virus?

It's serious and it can be deadly, but at the end of the day, if you're young and healthy and don't have any other underlying conditions, then you should be able to fight it off. My doctor shared how the only thing you can do is stay home and let it run its course. He said to drink a high volume of fluids like vitamin c to keep your immune system up.

Have you ever been interested in holistic practices?

I believe in medicine, I'm not gonna lie if I need a Z-Pack, I'm gonna get it (Laughs). But there's a lot of people around me who shared some things. I'm on a lot of herbs right now. They done gave me all types of kits and stuff that I posted on Instagram. I've been on oregano oil, black seed oil, and it's working. I'm trying everything from boiling orange peels to elderberry. I'm trying to stay on it, I feel good. I go outside and post up in the sun and try to drink hot tea during the day.

Hip-hop artists haven't said too much about the virus, but some are engaging more with fans on social media. What else do you think your peers can do with their influence during these times?  

If you're a rapper, you should be taking advantage of this time and giving content out to the world as much as possible. I've seen so many different artists be creative. Look at DJ D-Nice. About a year ago, I started spinning. I'm not really a DJ, I'm just having fun. But for D-Nice to have 150,000 people on his Live? You would never go to a club and DJ for that many people or never "see" Oprah and all of them. It's a whole new wave, a whole new world we're stepping into. You're reaching over 150,000 people and this is elite people at the same time.

It's inspired all the real DJs to get on. I'm seeing DJs from Houston like Mr. Rodgers spin for 12 hours straight and he had the whole city in his Live. We were all just in the comments, it's crazy, but it's amazing though because you have thousands there and you won't see that many people in a real club.

 

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After Hours Vibes are DIFFERENT in #ClubCorona. That 7am hour had me hella delirious and in rare form. Went in the bag and dropped that OutKast Spottie and brought the LIVE band out during my LIVE set. From 9p-2PM (17hrs nonstop) we went crazy. Long story short, don’t miss 2nite!! - s/o @honeyboneshawty for capturing this moment!

A post shared by DJ Mr Rogers (@djmrrogers) on Mar 25, 2020 at 1:11pm PDT

It's a new experience, so you have to be creative with it. My album Thug Life is out today [March 27th], but I've hosted a live listening on my Instagram. It was inspired by [2]Pac. Back in the day, he had a project called Thug Life and with Slim Thug being my name, I just had to use it.

I even saw Swae Lee [of rap duo Rae Sremmurd] do a whole concert. You just got to be engaged with your people and they will appreciate that because everyone is sitting at home bored with nothing to do. If they're busy now, they will have time to tune in later. All artists should be taking advantage of this moment, stay at home and give the people as much content as they can watch because they all want to see something right now.

What do you think it is about music that has people wanting it more than ever?

Music is just therapy to your body and soul. Whenever I'm stressed out, I got a playlist for that. I got a playlist for anything and any mood I need to be in. Music is very important because of a lot of Black people/minorities, don't go to therapy, they don't have a lot of access to resources that can help ease stress.

A lot of the times, a good song can do that for you, it can make you feel good. All of that. So it's very important. I feel like my content is good for these times. I have a song called "This World" that's about real-life stuff.  I got a record with [veteran Houston rapper] Z-Ro I'm finna drop that's like a gospel song to me. When I hear it, it just takes me there and I think people are going to feel the same.

Lastly, you mentioned you're getting into DJing. If you were to throw a Quarantine Party, what are the Top 5 records you have to play no matter what?

At my Quarantine Party, it's going to be the real playing. I've done a few mixes for the last ten days. I would say the go-to records are 90s R&B. It's just therapeutic feel-good music.

Hearing people singing really calms you down. Jodeci, Babyface, all of it. Guy, Keith Sweat. If you want to turn up and take it what's good now, Travis Scott is perfect to get lit to.

For those who want the real throwback rap, you might want to hear some Tupac. There's something for everybody, whatever you like, there's a playlist that will put you in a great mood and I think everyone should tap into that for real, it's real therapy.

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The History Of The Scottsboro Boys

Decades before the Exonerated Five became one of the biggest-known examples of Black and brown youth being targeted and falsely convicted, there were the Scottsboro Boys. The group of nine black teenagers, ranging from ages 13 to 19, were wrongly convicted of raping two white women on a freight train in 1931.

Haywood Patterson, Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, brothers Andrew and Leroy "Roy" Wright, Olin Montgomery (who was nearly blind), Eugene Williams, Ozie Powell, and Willie Roberson (who suffered from severe syphilis and could barely walk) were arrested on rape charges, which began a years-long battle for freedom. Four of the nine teens knew each other prior to being falsely accused and convicted.

On March 25, 1931, the teens boarded the Southern Railway freight train in hopes of finding jobs, along with other Black and white passengers. As the train made its way through Alabama, a fight broke out after a group of white passengers attempted to attack a group of Black passengers. Patterson was one of the passengers targeted which triggered a melee, that led to the white passengers getting kicked off the train in Skottsboro, Ala.

The angry posse headed to a nearby sheriff where they claimed that they had been attacked by Black passengers. Police intern arrested every Black passenger on the train for assault. Meanwhile, two white women on the train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, told police that they had been raped by the Black teens. It’s suspected that the women lied out of fear of being arrested for prostitution. A doctor later examined the women and determined that they were not raped.

Nonetheless, police arrested the teen, who were dubbed the Scottsboro Boys. Price and Bates went to the Scottsboro Jail and identified the teens as their attackers. In the age of Jim Crow and overt racism permeating through the South, the Scottsoboro Boys never stood a chance. White lynch mobs marched to the jail where they were being held and demanded that the boys be released into their custody so that they could kill them. As a result, the National Guard was called in to escort the Scottsboro Boys from jail to court. The boys were not allowed to consult with an attorney and were instead appointed two lawyers, one of whom was 69-year-old Milo Moody, who hadn’t tried a murder case in years. A second lawyer assigned to the case was a real estate attorney.

The first round of trials took place over the course of one day in a standing-room only court room with all-white, all-male jurors. Black jurors had been systematically blocked from the jury pools through disenfranchisement that also stripped many Blacks of the right to vote.

Patterson was tried separately, followed by Norris and Weems. The defense offered no closing arguments, but prosecutors closed by urging jurors to sentence the boys to death. Within two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Norris and Weems, amid cheers and applause in the court room. Patterson’s trial began as jurors were deliberating the case against Norris and Weems. Despite having no evidence and conflicting stories from Price and Bates, Patterson was convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. Powell, Roberson, Williams, Montgomery and Andy Wright’s trial began minutes after Patterson’s trial ended. The jury quickly convicted them and sentenced them to death.

Prosecutors decided that 13-year-old Roy Wright was too young for the death penalty. Within hours, the case was declared a mistrial as jurors were deadlocked on sentencing for Roy Wright, although they all agreed that he was guilty, despite him being innocent.

The other eight Scottsboro Boys were sentenced to death, but the Alabama Supreme Court issued a last-minute indefinite stay of execution. The case caught the attention of the International Labor Defense, and the NAACP.

On March 24, 1932, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the convictions against seven of the Scottsboro Boys, and granted Williams a new trial. The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court later that year. In a landmark decision, the high court ruled that the boys had been denied the right to a fair trial under the 14th Amendment, and sent the cases back to the lower court.

The Scottsboro Boys were tried again, this time in Decatur, Ala., which was roughly 50 miles from Scottsboro, but still in Ku Klux Klan territory. The ILD appealed the case and hired defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz. Bates recanted her rape story and agreed to testify on behalf of the defense. Despite Bates’ cooperation, and no evidence proving their guilt, the Scottsboro Boys were convicted again, though Patterson’s death sentence was suspended.

In a unanimous decision, the Alabama Supreme Court denied the defense’s motions for a new trial, and in January 1935, the case returned to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time. The guilty verdict against Norris was overturned and new trials were ordered for him and Patterson. Norris’ third trial ended in another conviction and death sentence along with Weems and Andy Wright. Roy Wright spent six years in prison while the case was tried several times.

Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop the rape charges against Powell, who was later convicted of assaulting a deputy sheriff and sentenced to 20 years. The remaining rape charges were also dropped against Montgomery, Roberson, Williams and Roy Wright, and they were released from custody.

Enduring back-to-back trials took a tole on the group that likely had a ripple effect on their lives. One of the accused was left disabled after being shot while being escorted to prison. Others returned to custody on various convictions over the years. Norris, the eldest and the last surviving among the bunch, evaded parole in 1946 and went into hiding for 30 years. He was found in 1976, and pardoned by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Norris died in 1989.

After more than 80 years, the Scottsboro Boys were posthumously pardoned in 2013. See more on the story in the video below.

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