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Scottsboro Boys Civil Rights Museum

Decatur Civil Rights Museum, Part 2

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“The civil rights movement is for everybody. It’s really about equality for all people.”

Peggy Allen Towns, Author of Scottsboro Unmasked: Decatur’s Story

Decatur is soon to be home to a multi-million-dollar civil rights museum, thanks to Celebrating Early Old Town with Art (CEOTA), a nonprofit organization established to illuminate the heritage of the early Old Town neighborhood of Decatur.

It all began when CEOTA Founder and Decatur native Frances Tate purchased a deserted, deteriorating house from the city with a grand vision in mind.

“They were happy to get it off of their hands,” Frances explains. “But I told them I wouldn’t buy it unless they sold me the lot next door, too.”

Where it Began – The Scottsboro Boys

“The Scottsboro Boys were nine innocent Black youths that were falsely accused,” explains Peggy Allen Towns, author of Scottsboro Unmasked: Decatur’s Story. “Eight of the nine boys were sentenced to die in Alabama’s electric chair.”

The house Frances purchased was a boarding house during the Scottsboro Boys trials, held in Decatur from 1933 to 1937. It housed Ruby Bates, one of the boys’ accusers.

The Grand Vision

CEOTA is currently renovating the house where Ruby Bates once stayed. It will become a museum that will depict Decatur’s role in the historical trials of the Scottsboro Boys. The empty lot next door will become a state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar expansion of the museum, reflecting the civil rights struggles and victories during the era.

The Horton House

Judge James Horton made history by reversing the death sentence of Haywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro Boys, during the retrial in Morgan County – a decision that cost him his career but helped pave the path of the civil rights movement.

Thanks to CEOTA, the home that Judge Horton lived in during the trials is now situated around the corner from the future Civil Rights Museum after a move from Greenbrier to the corner of Church and Grove Streets in October 2023.

The Horton House is a major addition to the Civil Rights Museum and will become a legal learning center. In partnerships with universities all over the United States, Frances envisions classes being taught on law history and legal ethics, as well as civil rights discussions and mock trials in the center.

“It is a part of America’s history,” says Peggy. “My hope is that the museum will educate people and inspire people, for us to move forward, and for Decatur to be its best.”

Did you miss Part 1 of our Decatur Civil Rights Museum story? Check it out here.

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