(Editor's note: Last of three parts)
Ed Johnson was found guilty of raping Nevada Taylor on Feb. 9, 1906. He continued to declare his innocence, but Johnson's lawyer, W.G. Thomas, convinced him to waive his right to appeal, telling Johnson an appeal would be denied and a delay might result in a mob descending on the jail to lynch him.
Lawyer Lewis Shepherd contended an appeal for a new trial was warranted due to errors in the first trial. However, when Johnson told County Judge Samuel McReynolds he felt "everything possible had been done" for him, Shepherd was forced to end his efforts. Johnson was sentenced to hang on March 13.
The day after the sentencing, Johnson's father visited lawyers Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins and asked them to take the case. Parden was reluctant. Though convinced of Johnson's innocence, Parden feared the impact on their practice. Hutchins disagreed, invoking the biblical injunction: "To those whom much has been given, much is expected." Parden reluctantly agreed.
On Feb. 13, Parden and Hutchins filed a motion for a new trial. Citing errors in the original trial, they contended his previous lawyers improperly abandoned him by convincing Johnson to waive his right to appeal. Judge McReynolds denied the request. Admonishing them, he asked, "What can two Negro lawyers do that the defendant's previous lawyers were unable to achieve? ... Do you think a Negro lawyer could possibly be smarter or know the law better than a white lawyer?"
Parden and Hutchins' appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was denied. Their appeal to the U.S. District Court also was denied; however, the District Court granted a stay of execution.
Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 17 Parden appeared before Justice John Harlan, citing violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Parden was the first black lawyer to serve as lead counsel before the Court. Harlan granted a stay of execution, pending review by the whole Court.
News spread quickly through Chattanooga. The next evening a mob of angry men surrounded the jail. There was no resistance. Sheriff Joseph Shipp gave his deputies, except one jailer, the night off and ordered prisoners removed from the floor where Johnson was held. The sheriff came to the jail during the riot and complied with a suggestion that he go into the bathroom.
The men took Johnson from his cell to the Walnut Street Bridge. Putting a noose around his neck, they demanded a confession. Johnson professed his innocence, further infuriating the mob. They hauled him up. When he did not die, they shot him more than 50 times. One bullet pierced the rope. Johnson fell to the bridge and was shot five more times.
Chattanooga white leaders decried the lynching. Many claimed the Supreme Court intervention incited the mob leading to the lynching.
On May 28, the U.S. Attorney General filed a petition charging Sheriff Shipp, six deputies and 19 mob leaders with contempt of the Supreme Court. The trial was the only criminal trial ever conducted before the Court. Shipp and two others were sentenced to 90 days in jail, the others were given 60 days. All were released after 60 days and returned to Chattanooga where they were greeted by 10,000 cheering supporters.
As Parden predicted, Johnson's case affected their practice. Black clients would not hire them, fearing the anger of white judges. Their office was stoned. Parden's home was threatened with fire when a mob burned down their neighbor's home by mistake. Both men left Chattanooga. The Rev. Thomas and Ellen McCallie sheltered Mattie Parden until she could join her husband.
Hutchins moved to Oklahoma and started a newspaper. He never practiced law again.
Parden moved to St. Louis, Missouri. He practiced law until 1940. Active in politics, he was appointed city prosecutor and later assistant state's attorney.
Nevada Taylor died in 1907 of "nervous prostration" at her childhood home in Ohio.
Ed Johnson lay in an untended cemetery for nearly 100 years until Hamilton County educator LaFredrick Thirkill began refocusing public attention on Johnson's story. Johnson's conviction was overturned in 2000. "Contempt of Court" by Mark Curriden and Chattanooga attorney Leroy Phillips Jr. increased interest in Johnson's lynching.
Established in 2016, The Ed Johnson Project (www.edjohnsonproject.com) seeks to build a memorial to Johnson near the Walnut Street Bridge, produce a video about his case, and endow a scholarship in his name.
Each of Parden's constitutional arguments were eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court. As Parden stated at the conclusion of the Court's initial proceedings, "Nothing less than our civilized society is at stake."
Gay Moore is a freelance writer living in Chattanooga. For more, visit chattahistoricalassoc.org.