Cover image for Contempt of court : the turn-of-the-century lynching that launched 100 years of federalism
Contempt of court : the turn-of-the-century lynching that launched 100 years of federalism
Curriden, Mark.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Faber and Faber, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvii, 394 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF224.J63 C87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The first book ever written about the historical precedent-setting case by which the Supreme Court declared itself the highest court. A lynch mob in Tennessee hanged a black man, who had been acquitted by the Supreme Court in a rape trial, with the full knowledge & acquiescence of the local government. For the first time & only time in history, the Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial to enforce its authority, bringing contempt of court & obstruction of justice charges against the local sheriff, his deputies, & members of the lynch mob.

Author Notes

Mark Curriden is the legal affairs writer for "The Dallas Morning News". He lives in Dallas, Texas.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Legal writer Curriden and lawyer Phillips use interviews, court transcripts, and newspaper accounts to bring immediacy to the historic events in this precedent-setting case of a black man, Ed Johnson, lynched despite a Supreme Court order staying his execution. The authors show the gross racial prejudice and cynicism that prompted a Tennessee sheriff to accommodate Johnson's lynching in 1906, days before an election and in open defiance of the Supreme Court. The pervasive racism was evident from the investigation of the rape of a white woman through the trial and reluctant appeal--the intimidation of black lawyers who took up the appeal by citizens, courts, and police was widespread. The authors object to the relative obscurity of the case against Sheriff Shipp, though it set the precedent of federal jurisdiction over state courts on some issues and represented the first time in the long, sordid history of U.S. race relations that lynchers were identified, tried, and found guilty. This is a compelling story, which, the authors rightly submit, "provides unique insight into our dual criminal-justice system, that of state and federal courts." --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

A little-known chapter in American legal history gets expert, well-deserved treatment by Curriden, legal affairs writer for the Dallas Morning News, and Phillips, a Tennessee trial attorney. The exciting narrative concerns the legal and social aftermath of the 1906 trial of Ed Johnson, a black man, for the rape of Nevada Taylor, a white woman, in Tennessee. Intimidated by threats of social unrest, the local court and law enforcement officers railroaded Johnson through an unjust trial and sentenced him to death by hanging. After Johnson's conviction, a team of local lawyers rushed to the Supreme Court for an appeal and stay of execution. In a little-used proceeding that allows for an interim decision by just one of the justices, Noah Parden, a black attorney, made the argument to Justice John Marshall Harlan and won the stay. But the local Chattanooga population became so enraged by what they saw as federal interference in local affairs that, with the assistance of the local sheriff, they stormed the jailhouse and lynched Johnson. The Supreme Court then held its first criminal trial, with the justices sitting as jurors in the case against the lynchers. The book succeeds on two levels: as an analysis of a legal precedent that paved the way for the Supreme Court, many years later, to find that the Bill of Rights applied to the states; and as a dramatic story, written with novelistic flair, of a few brave individuals who refused to be cowed by mob rule. 20 pages b&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In 1906, Ed Johnson, a black man in Chattanooga, was arrested for the rape of a white woman. A mockery of a trial ended in his being sentenced to hang. After his court-appointed lawyers abandoned him, advising accepting the verdict and dying in an orderly fashion or appealing and being lynched, two black lawyers, asserting that Johnson's constitutional rights had been violated, sought to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an unprecedented move, the Court intervened in the state's case, staying Johnson's execution until it could hear the appeal. Nevertheless, as predicted, a mob took him from an unprotected jail and lynched him. In another unprecedented move, the Justice Department indicted the Tennessee sheriff, his deputies, and members of the mob for contempt of court, and the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time sat in judgment of a criminal case. Journalist Curriden and Chattanooga attorney Phillips offer an intriguing look at a largely forgotten case that set historic precedents. Recommended for all larger libraries.ÄJim G. Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
1 A Plea for Justicep. 3
2 Scene of the Crimep. 20
3 Someone Must Payp. 34
4 Pretense of Law and Orderp. 51
5 "Can You Swear It?"p. 78
6 The Jury's Verdictp. 110
7 Enter Noah Pardenp. 130
8 The Appeals Beginp. 142
9 Writ of Habeas Corpusp. 154
10 The Supreme Court Intervenesp. 169
11 Gallows Disappointedp. 188
12 God Bless You All; I Am Innocentp. 198
13 The Honor of the Courtp. 215
14 Secret Service Menp. 236
15 Supreme Jurisdictionp. 256
16 Sheriff Shipp on Trialp. 285
17 "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!"p. 317
Epiloguep. 337
Appendixesp. 353
A Note on Sourcesp. 375
Bibliographyp. 377
Sources for Illustrationsp. 385
Indexp. 387