Preserving history: Scottsboro Boys Museum renovation project

Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 5:54 PM CST
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SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WAFF) - For more than a decade, Shelia Washington worked hard and overcame obstacles to honor and tell the story of the Scottsboro Boys.

Nine black teenagers falsely accused of rape by two white women in 1931, when they were traveling by train through Jackson County. An all-white jury in Scottsboro sentenced eight out of nine boys to death, and the youngest to life in prison. Years later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the case and the Scottsboro Boys were released from prison after one of the women who accused the men of rape recanted her story.

On November 21, 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles exonerated the Scottsboro Boys. It was then when Washington founded the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center to educate the community and share their story.

“This lil church has held history and pictures and things that no one else has seen and for us to find and purchase this 151-year-old building to tell the story in,” said Shelia Washington.

Last year, for the 10th anniversary of the museums founding, Washington kicked off the celebration by recreating the courtroom where the Scottsboro Boys were put on trial. On January 27th, Washington and volunteers removed pictures and displays from out of the museum to make room for new renovations and new building in the back of the church.

“It’s a sorta sweet sad event because we started out with what we had to begin with and now it’s going to the state of the arch’s,” said Washington.

Marc Cruz was one of several volunteers who helped clean out the museum. He says it was an opportunity for him to give back and preserve history.

“I think as Americans and citizens of the city it’s our job to preserve history and not erase it but to show the facts and truths in that,” said Cruz.

Washington says the renovations inside the church will include state of the art real life mannequins, different eras of the 1930′s and pictures of the time frame of the courtroom and jailhouse scenes.

“It’s definitely going to be remarkable and what I thought was remarkable before it’s going to be fascinating now,” said Washington.

But unfortunately, Shelia won’t get the opportunity to see her vision and new renovations come to life. She died suddenly, on January 29.

Two days before her passing, Sheila shared with me that she was given a 62-thousand-5-hundred-dollar donation from Senator Steve Livingston to go towards the renovations. A GoFundMe account is also setup to help the museum reach their goal of 100-thousand dollars. As of now, a little over 47 hundred dollars have been donated which makes the museum short a little over 30 thousand dollars to meet their goal.

Shelia’s motto for the renovation project was to celebrate by bringing the past to the present, with help of the community to help keep her labor of love and legacy alive.

“So we are most appreciative for what you all have done and the doors are still open, the lights are still on and we’re still standing,” said Washington.

And soon, her legacy will extend outside of the museum she founded...a mural of the Scottsboro Boys painted by artist Don Howard, located on Peachtree Street on the Square of Scottsboro.

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