Confronting the Modern Era
Confront Racial Ed Johnson 01 Parden Confront Racial Ed Johnson 02 Hutchins

Read about the lynching of Ed Johnson in Chattanooga.

Ed Johnson was arrested in Chattanooga in 1906 for the night time robbery and assault of a 19-year-old woman.

During the trial the victim testified that she “believed” he was the man who attacked her. She was so uncertain that one of the jurors cried out “as God sees you, can you say that he is the right Negro?”

Based more on the testimony of another man who said he had seen Johnson around the location shortly before the attack, the jury convicted Johnson, ignoring testimony of eight people that they had seen Johnson at a local bar all evening.

Sentenced to die by hanging, Johnson’s case was appealed to the federal courts by local African American attorneys. On March 19, 1906, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his case. As word of the court’s decision got out, groups of men began gathering and talking about taking the law in their own hands.

A group of them stormed the jail and, using sledge hammers, broke into the Johnson’s jail cell. The mob took him to the county bridge and prepared to hang him. Johnson, who by accounts, remained calm, told them, “I am not guilty…I know I am going to die and I have no fear to die.” He then said “God bless you all.” As he was hoisted up and hung, men started firing into his body.

Since Johnson’s case had been accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices directed federal officers to investigate the lynching, in particular whether or not Sheriff Joseph Shipp and his deputies were involved. After an investigation and hearing, the court ruled that Shipp, his deputy and three others were guilty of contempt of court in Johnson’s death. 

Shipp was sentenced to nine months in a federal prison. When he was released, he received a hero’s welcome back in Chattanooga.

From “God Bless You All—I Am Innocent, Sheriff Joseph Shipp, Chattanooga and the Lynching of Ed Johnson” by Michael Webb, in Trial and Triumph, Essays in African American History, Carroll Van West, editor (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002)

Picture Credits:
  • Photograph of Noah W. Parden.  Parden was one of Ed Johnson’s defenders during his murder trial. Chattanooga-Hamilton Bicentennial Library.
  • Photograph of Styles L. Hutchins. Hutchins was one of Ed Johnson’s defenders during his murder trial. He also served as a Representative from Chattanooga in the 45th Tennessee General Assembly. Chattanooga-Hamilton Bicentennial Library.

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