Legislature Passes Ed Johnson Resolution; Group To Remember Lynching Victim At Walnut Street Bridge Gathering

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Tennessee General Assembly has passed "an historic resolution which commemorates the untimely lynching of Mr. Ed Johnson on March 19, 1906, the brave and courageous defense given by his legal team, and the unprecedented federal intervention undertaken by President Theodore Roosevelt and the United States Supreme Court in seeking Justice in this case."

Ed Johnson was lynched on the Walnut Street Bridge. He had maintained that he was innocent of the rape of a young St. Elmo woman.

His case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Sheriff Joseph F. Shipp was convicted of not properly protecting him.

Eric Atkins, chairman of the Ed Johnson Committee, said members of the committee, government and elected officials and local citizens will assemble at the south entrance of the Walnut Street Bridge at 11 a.m. next Friday "to pay respectful memory to a chapter of our nation's history, the events surrounding the lynching of Ed Johnson."

He said, "Over the last several months, a committee dedicated to the preservation of Chattanooga's African American history, culture and genealogy has developed. One of the primary objectives of this committee was to commemorate the Ed Johnson incident.

"In one of legal history's most well-documented instances, Mr. Johnson was lynched along the second span of the Walnut Street Bridge for a heinous crime that he did not commit despite his persistent pleas of innocence. This defied a stay of execution order issued directly from the Supreme Court. The Ed Johnson incident is further historic because of the role that the federal government undertook as President Theodore Roosevelt launched an investigation into the affair, and for the first time the Supreme Court of the United States would hold individuals guilty of contempt of court. Furthermore, this would also be the first occasion an African American attorney would present and argue a case before a sitting Supreme Court Justice.

"Having received these facts, State Rep. JoAnne Favors began to work towards an official recognition for Ed Johnson and individuals and groups that played a significant role in this historical chapter. Rep. Favors has been successful, and on March 28, 2016, the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee voted to pass an official resolution dedicated to the respectful memory of Ed Johnson and those individuals and parties who made a key contribution in his pursuit of justice.

"As we gather at the bridge on Friday, we hope this will be an occasion where we can affirm those things that unite us as a nation and community are far greater than those that divide us when we "lean to the better angels" of our nature. Therefore, it is with the greatest of humility, a respect for the past and present, and most gracious measure of solemnity for our future, that we make this public announcement."

Eric Atkins edited this "Call for a Memorial for Ed Johnson":



This brief synopsis was devised and developed with one simple goal in mind, to advocate on the behalf of an individual who had been unjustly lynched due to mob violence and the systemic and institutionalized failures of a criminal justice system which failed to uphold the writ of habeas corpus, due process, or equal protection under the law. This man's name was Ed Johnson, and before he was lynched atop the Walnut Street (City) Bridge in Chattanooga Tennessee on March 19th, 1906, his last words wereGod Bless You All-I Am Innocent.The case took on new and historic relevance because of the intervention of the United States Supreme Court and the chain of events which would follow the demise of Ed Johnson, namely, for the first time in history the U.S. Supreme Court would hold individuals inContempt of Court.Nevertheless, in researching and compiling this brief historical sketch, it became clear that there was a story that was far larger than one lone individual, which was the decades long push to eradicate the practice of lynching and mob violence in the United States. It was a story of individuals and true heroes who stood firm on their principles, courage and convictions, even when it was unpopular and often times dangerous to do so. It's the story of the children of the Abolitionists Movement, who were black, white and every race in between, and would come together in unison with one goal in mind, to advocate against lynching and mob violence, and in a larger sense stand firm for human rights. It's the story of how individuals and groups put aside their personal stakes and interests and decided that they were far better off by the combined strength of their collective units than they were when they embraced seeds of divisiveness and dissension. America is better off today because of their noble sacrifices, and it is our hope that this resolution will help us to preserve the true spirits of their struggle in the future. (Respectfully Eric A. Atkins, M. Ed February 14th, 2016)

Thurgood Marshall on U.S. V. Shipp, “....was perhaps the first instance in which the Court demonstrated that the Fourteenth Amendment and Equal Protection Clause have any substantial meaning to people of the African-American race.”

(Excerpt courtesy Linda R. Monk The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Consitution. New York: Stonesong Press, 2001. pp. 220.)

Here is the state resolution:


By  Favors

A RESOLUTION to pay tribute to the memory of Mr. Ed Johnson. WHEREAS, the immoral and inhumane practice of "lynching" that occurred in the United

States of America between 1875 and 1950 represented the cruelest and most unusual forms of capital punishment, threatening numerous African-American communities, terrorizing untold scores of individuals, and denying many of human dignity and their most basic and fundamental constitutional and civil rights as it smeared a reprehensible stain on the social fabric of the nation; and
WHEREAS, on January 25, 1906, Mr. Ed Johnson of Chattanooga was arrested for a heinous crime without any substantial evidence connecting him to the incident.  Despite his insistent pleas of innocence, Mr. Johnson was made to endure extreme hardships throughout his confinement, legal trials, and unjustifiable execution atop the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga on March 19, 1906; and
WHEREAS, convicted and sentenced to be put to death on March 13, 1906, Mr. Johnson was represented by Chattanooga African-American attorneys Noah W. Parden and Styles L. Hutchins after the majority of his original legal team believed an appeal of the Hamilton County court ruling would be fruitless and frivolous; and
WHEREAS, all legal remedies exhausted, the case was directly appealed to the United States Supreme Court on the merits that discrepancies, inadequacies, and inaccuracies had occurred during Mr. Johnson's trial, violating provisions under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments; and
WHEREAS, representing Mr. Johnson, Noah Parden became the first African-American attorney to argue the merits of a case before a sitting Supreme Court Justice, John Marshall
Harlan. This was also the first occasion in which an African-American attorney was listed as the lead counsel in a case before the United States Supreme Court; and
WHEREAS, winning his appeal, Mr. Johnson was granted the first stay of execution in a criminal case by the United States Supreme Court on March 19, 1906. That evening in Chattanooga, Ed Johnson was taken by a mob from the Hamilton County Jail and murdered; and
WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court and the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt vigorously responded to the lynching of Mr. Johnson as the Department of Justice and the Secret Service launched an investigation; and
WHEREAS, on May 28, 1906, Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph Shipp, six of his deputies, and nineteen individuals were linked to the mob and officially charged with contempt of the court. The Supreme Court upheld its jurisdiction to intervene in the landmark case (United States v. Shipp, 203 U.S. 563 (1906)), and Sheriff Shipp and five codefendants were found guilty and sentenced to brief prison terms on November 15, 1909; and
WHEREAS, on February 26, 2000, the Reverend Paul A. McDaniel and concerned citizens brought forth a formal request to petition the court to posthumously expunge and dismiss all charges against Mr. Johnson, and, ninety-four years after the lynching, Hamilton County Judge Doug Meyer overturned Ed Johnson's conviction; and
WHEREAS, it is important to chronicle and remember the details and historic events surrounding the arrest, legal proceedings, and lynching of Mr. Ed Johnson; the heroic and courageous defense provided by his attorneys; and the historic intervention taken by the United States Supreme Court to provide remedies and justice in this case; now, therefore,
CONCURRING, that we pay respectful tribute to the memory of Mr. Ed Johnson as we remember the loathsome circumstances of his death, the valiant efforts of his attorneys to seek justice for their client, and the actions of the United States Supreme Court in its effort to secure Mr. Johnson's constitutional rights.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that an appropriate copy of this resolution be prepared for presentation with this final clause omitted from such copy.


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