Shelia Washington, whose dream of honoring the Scottsboro Boys became a reality, died Friday, Jan. 29. She was 61. Rick Roden, president and CEO of Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce said family members said Washington suffered a heart attack.
“We were so sad to hear of the passing of Shelia Washington,” said Roden. “Anyone who knew her saw that her passion was the Scottsboro Boys Museum.”
At 17, Washington first learned of the terrible events surrounding the nine young black boys who were wrongly accused in raping two white women in 1931, while she was looking for something under her bed.
Instead, she found a book titled, “Scottsboro Boy,” a memoir by Haywood Patterson, one of the boys. From that moment on, Washington’s dream was to honor the Scottsboro Boys and clear their names, no matter the roadblocks ahead of her. It even started in her own home as her father caught her with the book, snatching it from her hands and told her never to open it again.
Washington, who was the first African-American to work at Scottsboro City Hall, served 18 years as a public relations manager and office manager for the city mayor. After leaving in 1996, Washington devoted her time, over 17 years, to founding a museum and eventually getting the nine boys fully exonerated.
Finally, the Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, on Willow Street, was open in 2010. Through the years, Washington took pride in the museum and worked hard to improve it, making it a tourism destination spot in Scottsboro that brought people in from across the country. Recently, Washington had secured funding to completely modernize the museum and was working to finalize the project.
“Shelia and I had become good friends in the past year, and I am heartbroken that she will not be able to see the realization of her dream, through the renovation of the Scottsboro Boys Museum,” said Sarah Stahl, director of marketing and tourism of Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce.”
Roden said Washington was so excited about the grants received to finish the museum.
“She has left a legacy that will last forever,” said Roden. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and the entire community.”