Athens to host exhibit on Judge Horton and Scottsboro Boys
Exhibit includes family treasures stored in lard bucket
When the family of Judge James Horton handed Limestone County Archivist Rebekah Davis family treasures for an upcoming exhibit, Davis was not expecting one of those items to be a lard bucket full of letters.
Kathy Horton Garett, Horton’s granddaughter, and Katherine Horton, the judge’s daughter-in-law, are loaning items for an exhibit call “Outside the Protective Circle of Humanity” that will open with a kickoff event on Feb. 18 at Athens-Limestone Public Library.
Davis said the letters in the lard bucket were sent to Horton during the 1930s re-trial of one of the Scottsboro Boys defendants. The Scottsboro Boys case involved nine black men accused of raping two white women in 1931 on a train traveling from Tennessee into Alabama. Eight of the nine men were sentenced in Scottsboro to death despite a lack of evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court granted an appeal for new trials in Decatur, where Horton, of Athens, presided over defendant Haywood Patterson’s trial.
“What a great story in itself that these priceless documents, these letters, have been carefully preserved in a lard bucket all this time,” Davis said. “There’s even a letter he received from Denmark.”
The exhibit is a partnership with the Limestone County and Morgan County archives. The exhibit, including the lard bucket and letters, will be available to the public from Feb. 18 to March 1 in the library on Jefferson Street. It will open Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. with guest speakers, including Limestone County Bar Association President Mark Maclin, who will discuss Horton and his pivotal role in the case. Maclin will also provide information about a local effort to raise funds to erect a bronze statue honoring Horton at the Limestone County Courthouse.
The exhibit will feature the fountain pen Horton used to sign the judgement to set aside the jury’s guilty verdict in the re-trial. Despite medical testimony indicating there were no rapes and one woman recanting her story, the jury found Patterson guilty.
“After the re-trial ended in Decatur, it was in his hometown of Athens on June 22, 1933, that Judge Horton set aside the jury verdict,” said Judge Horton Monument Committee member Limestone County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Woodroof.
In 1933, Horton lost his race for re-election, which is attributed to his decision to set aside the verdict.
Other family items include doorknobs from the old Morgan County Courthouse where the trials took place. Morgan County Archives is loaning images from the estate of Fred Hiroshige, one of six photographers allowed in the courtroom for Patterson’s trial. In 1998, the Morgan County Commission acquired the 127 negatives Hiroshige had saved. They are now a part of the permanent collection of the Morgan County Archives. The exhibit includes 32 of those photos, along with narrative panels that help share the story.
The exhibit will close on Tuesday, March 1, as Laura Anderson, Archivist of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, will present “Mother’s Day 1961: The Freedom Rides of Alabama” for the “Booked for Lunch” event at noon.
How to support the Judge Horton Monument Project
The monument project is being overseen by the Judge Horton Monument Committee comprised of local attorneys and community members. The Limestone County Bar Association started efforts and received support from the Limestone County Commission and Limestone Area Community Foundation.
To support the project, mail a tax-deductible donation to LACF-Horton Fund, P.O. Box 578, Athens, AL 35612. To learn more, go online at www.hortonmonument.com or on Facebook at James Judge Horton Monument Project.
By: Holly Hollman