Monday, May 26, 2008


Ellen Feldman is the author of Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy. She writes both historical fiction and social history, and has published articles on the history of divorce, plastic surgery, Halloween, the Normandie, and many other topics, as well as numerous book reviews.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Scottsboro and reported the following:
Scottsboro is the story of two impoverished white women who accused nine young black men of a rape that never occurred. It is important not only as a record of a heinous racial injustice that dragged on for half the twentieth century, but also for what it tells us about America and its fault lines, and for the personal tragedies and triumphs it set in motion.

The novel begins with three quotations that illustrate the three main themes of the book.

“I was scared before, but it wasn’t nothing to how I felt now. I knew if a white woman accused a black man of rape, he was as good as dead.” Clarence Norris, the last of the Scottsboro boys.

Racism is the dominant thread of the story, and p. 69 illustrates it in the starkly personal terms of one of the women who cried rape. It also demonstrates the reason I chose to write a novel rather than a nonfiction book in order to dramatize the human dimensions of the story.

The second quote, from the poet Langston Hughes, suggests another aspect of the Scottsboro case.

“Who ever heard of raping a prostitute?”

Scottsboro turned sexism on its head. Northern liberals, who under other circumstances would have defended the two girls as victims of social and economic injustice did their best to vilify them as part-time prostitutes. Southerners admitted the girls might be women of easy virtue, but they were Southern white women of easy virtue.

The third quote is from one of the prosecutors summing up for the state in the second round of Scottsboro trials in 1933.

“Show them that Alabama justice cannot be bought and sold with Jew money from New York.”

Most of the lawyers who defended the Scottsboro boys were Jewish. Many saw this coalition of Negroes and Jews as an unholy alliance. I see it as an admirable and enviable moment of coming together, especially relevant to our times.
Learn more about the book and author at Ellen Feldman's website, and read her essay, "75 Years After Scottsboro," at the Huffington Post.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue