Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism

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In this profound and fascinating book, the authors revisit an overlooked Supreme Court decision that changed forever how justice is carried out in the United States.
In 1906, Ed Johnson was the innocnet black man found guilty of the brutal rape of Nevada Taylor, a white woman, and sentenced to die in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two black lawyers, not even part of the original defense, appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution, and the stay, incredibly, was granted. Frenzied with rage at the deision, locals responded by lynching Johnson, and what ensued was a breathtaking whirlwind of groundbreaking legal action whose import, Thurgood Marshall would claim, "has never been fully explained." Provocative, thorough, and gripping, Contempt of Court is a long-overdue look at events that clearly depict the peculiar and tenuous relationship between justice and the law.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Here are the compelling details of a case that led to a precedent-setting criminal trial unique in the annals of American jurisprudence. Ed Johnson, a black man, was wrongly convicted of rape in 1906 and sentenced to death in Tennessee. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan issued a stay of execution, declaring that Johnson's right to a fair trial had been violated. The intrusion of the Supreme Court was not well received in Tennessee, and a violent mob answered this federal "interference" by dragging Johnson from his jail cell and hanging him from a bridge. For the first and only time in history, an enraged Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial to enforce its authority. It brought contempt of court charges against the sheriff, his deputies, and members of the lynch mob. Contempt of Court, the first book written about these highly charged events, raises issues of federalism versus state rights that are as timely today as they were almost a century ago.
From the Publisher
Contempt of Court should join the handful of books such as Anthony Lewis’ Gideon’s Trumpet as required reading for anyone who wants to understand how the Constitution protects individual citizens.”–Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385720823
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 467,963
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.93 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

1 A Plea for Justice 3
2 Scene of the Crime 20
3 Someone Must Pay 34
4 Pretense of Law and Order 51
5 "Can You Swear It?" 78
6 The Jury's Verdict 110
7 Enter Noah Parden 130
8 The Appeals Begin 142
9 Writ of Habeas Corpus 154
10 The Supreme Court Intervenes 169
11 Gallows Disappointed 188
12 God Bless You All; I Am Innocent 198
13 The Honor of the Court 215
14 Secret Service Men 236
15 Supreme Jurisdiction 256
16 Sheriff Shipp on Trial 285
17 "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!" 317
Epilogue 337
Appendixes 353
A Note on Sources 375
Bibliography 377
Sources for Illustrations 385
Index 387
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2002

    Excellent and important lesson of courage.

    Fascinating and important text on a tragic but amazing story in American history. I had the opportunity to hear co-author Mark Curriden speak regarding the events described in the book and was moved to purchase the book. It is clearly an interesting book for lawyers and nonlawyers alike. It's many messages still ring true today. In particular, the message that the efforts of a few can truly make a difference. While attorneys Noah Walter Parden and Styles Linton Hutchins could not save Ed Johnson's life, they showed great courage in the face of the many barriers faced by African-Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. As a society, we owe a lot to the brave and tireless work of Parden and Hutchins.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2001

    Must Read for All Good Citizens of America

    I finally read Contempt of Court and was truly moved. This is mandatory reading for anyone who thinks civil liberties are easily won or over-protected -- and I count myself among the conservatives, leery of many ACLU positions! I bought the hardback version of this book when it came out in 1999 and it had been sitting on my shelf until last month. As an attorney with connections to Chattanooga, I of course found the book fascinating. But it is a rewarding and easy read for non-attorneys and those with no interest in the law, as well, since it tells the tale of heroism in its least-often recognized form: good people, with good hearts, trying to change The System from within. It also shows the ugly side of history we are fond of forgetting, but must remember if we are to progress. Finally, it gives context to those who think they know the civil rights movement from more famous figures like MLK or DuBois, or more famous events in Washington or Alabama. Now an educator, I find myself recommending it to many students in search of inspiration and aspiration, ... especially if contemplating a career in the legal field or wanting to 'make a difference.' Parden, Hutchins and others are role models for our generation, if not for their own. The subjects of racism and federalism aside (which incidentally are still timely), it is a well-written book, as well. It balances a comfortable read with a well-referenced historical text, including lynching statistics in the appendix and photos from the time -- including haunting, vile ones of lynching as ostensibly a spectator sport. The authors do integrate their own opinions into the text, but that is what makes it powerful. Moreover, they quote extensively from the newspapers and legal records of the time, in an orderly, logical fashion, so you can draw your own conclusions, as well, and even sense the 'temper of the times.' Well done. I wish more books educated and inspired me in the same way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001


    This book is a masterpiece. This story was so compelling to me, I was driven to launch a city wide community service project, to restore the abandoned cemetery where Mr.Johnson is buried. I, for the first time in my life and due solely to the information in this book,learned, during the planning, that my great grandfather is also buried at the same cemetery. This book is written with such great detail that one feels every emotion encountered on both sides of the racial lines that divided Chattanooga. I am honored to be mentioned in the paperback edition and I am greatful to the authors for sharing such a powerful yet enlightening piece of history. Lastly I am forever great to Leroy for such a passionate zeal to redeem the digity of a man that lived one hundred years ago. This book is a must for every home, school and library.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2011

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