Demonstrators snaked six miles through Washington, DC on May 8, 1933 to win justice for nine African-American teenagers—the Scottsboro Boys— accused of raping two white women at knife point in a series of arrests, trials, jury bias, lynch mobs, and Supreme Court remandings that began in 1931 and continued until 1937.
For civil libertarians in Europe, as for marchers demonstrating in a Washington squall, the week of the march portended only evil. On February 28th, Hitler abolished civil rights in Germany. On March 5th, Hitler triumphed in the general election that beginning March 23rd, afforded him absolute control over Germany.
Publicized by the American Communist Party, the trials of the Scottsboro Boys constituted front page news in American newspapers throughout the 1930s. In its hold on the American imagination, particularly the African-American imagination, the case resembling the Lindbergh kidnapping and murder of 1932. Introduced in 2013, legislation in Alabama would, if approved, posthumously pardon each of the nine defendants.
At its closest, the march for justice for the Scottsboro Boys passed seven blocks south of the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street, Washington, DC.
Workers Age, May 1, 1933
Twenty two months after the Washinton march denouncing the jury's vote for death by electrocution for a Scottsboro Boy, African-American men and boys gathered on the street before the Lincoln Theater to take in a matinee. It was a weekend or two before Christmas, 1935. Playing that afternoon was The Barbary Coast (1935), a Western set in Gold Rush era San Francisco.
The Lincoln was a major movie exhibitor in African-American Washington. It accommodated 1200 patrons in a Greco-Roman brick building that also housed a barber shop and a convenience store.
Washington was still then a substantially segregated city. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson, separating black and white employees in federal offices, adopted segregation as federal policy. By practice if not law until the 1950s, patrons of the Lincoln Theater were exclusively African-American.
Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, who wrote The Front Page (1931) and fifty seven other movies and TV episodes together, created the script for The Barbary Coast. In 1935, Hecht was beginning to express his growing antipathy for fascist causes. In 1943, when countless Americans maintained their ignorance of the mass exterminations taking place in Europe, Hecht sardonically placed an ad in The New York Times: