Ed Johnson Project seeks artists, design teams for monument [photos]

Donivan Brown, a committee member for the Ed Johnson Project, speaks during a meeting at Green Spaces Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The project committee met with people interested in joining efforts to create a monument honoring Ed Johnson, a Chattanooga man who was falsely accused of rape and lynched in 1906 on the Walnut Street Bridge.

A local nonprofit has raised $160,000 for a monument to honor Ed Johnson, a black man hanged on the Walnut Street Bridge more than a century ago after he was falsely accused of rape. His trial changed the course of civil-rights laws in the country.

The Ed Johnson Project committee hopes his story spurs racial reconciliation in the city.

The committee has now sent out a call to artists and design teams interested in creating a monument. The sculpture, which will honor Johnson for his place in local and American history, will be near the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge.

Artists and design teams have until Thursday to apply.

"The site will commemorate events associated with Ed Johnson's lynching, honor the courageous work of his attorneys and recognize the resulting United States Supreme Court case that changed civil-rights law in America," according to the project's website, www.edjohnsonproject.com/call-to-artists/.

A committee will select the top three applicants and offer each of them a $5,000 stipend for their submissions.

"There are several reasons why this story is so important," says committee member Mariann Martin. "This was an incident that completely changed the American justice system."

The 1906 case marked the first time in history the Supreme Court gave a stay of execution. It was the first and only time that the Supreme Court held a criminal trial. And the trial ended with Chattanooga Sheriff Joseph F. Shipp being held in contempt of court. The court held Shipp accountable for not keeping Johnson safe after learning that some of Shipp's deputies participated in Johnson's lynching.

Johnson was a 24-year-old black man living in Chattanooga when 21-year-old Nevada Taylor, a white woman, was raped. Taylor said she passed out during the attack but she "believed" that Johnson raped her. Even though Taylor refused to swear to her accusation, Johnson was found guilty.

Johnson continuously denied raping the woman and at least eight people testified that they had seen Johnson at a local bar all evening, according to the Tennessee State Museum website, www.tn4me.org.

Nevertheless, the crowd was so angry that it formed a mob and three times attempted to break Johnson out of jail to kill him. On the third attempt, the group succeeded in hanging him on the Walnut Street Bridge after the U.S. Supreme Court gave a stay of execution.

In addition to the federal legal precedents it set for the American criminal justice system, the trial made history for Johnson's attorney, Noah Parden.

Parden took up Johnson's case after Johnson's court-appointed attorneys decided not to pursue appeal when Johnson was sentenced to death.

Parden became the first African-American to argue as lead counsel before the U.S. Supreme Court. His partner, Styles Hutchins, became the first African-American to practice law in Georgia. He moved to Chattanooga in 1881 and became the first African-American to serve in the state legislature in 1886.

The Ed Johnson Project committee is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at First Christian Church Chattanooga, 650 McCallie Ave.

Contact Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.