Artistic Legacies of Scottsboro

Amelia Glaser, 2021–2022 Radcliffe Institute Fellow
Anthony Russell
, Worker’s Circle
Heather Klein

In 1931, nine young Black men were arrested and incarcerated in Scottsboro, Alabama on false charges of rape. The ensuing trial lasted years. The Scottsboro Nine became an important subject among Black artists and activists across the US. What is less known is that they also became the subject of dozens of Yiddish poems by recent Jewish immigrants to the US, many of whom found in the Scottsboro trial and lynch culture a subject similar to the institutional and grass-roots antisemitism they had witnessed in Eastern Europe.

The goal of this exploratory seminar is to discuss the artistic and political legacies of race violence, with an emphasis on responses to the Scottsboro trial. We, the organizers, are in the midst of working collectively on a song-cycle based on the Yiddish poems of Scottsboro, as well as some of the Harlem Renaissance poems and pogrom poems that inspired them. The lead applicants include Amelia Glaser, who has written extensively about the Yiddish poems of Scottsboro, and two highly regarded singers/composers, Heather Klein (soprano) and Anthony Russell (bass). Other participants will include scholars of Black American literature, and Jewish American literature, as well as artists and musicians, who will discuss ways that Scottsboro has been remembered (or forgotten) in different American communities. The first day of the seminar will consist of discussions about the Scottsboro trial itself. The second day will be a discussion about how poetry and music can be mobilized to honor the victims of historical systemic race violence.