Read Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism by Mark Curriden Leroy Phillips Online


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 dIn 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....

Title : Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism
Author :
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ISBN : 9780385720823
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism Reviews

  • Eric_W
    2019-02-26 11:12

    Note. If you don't like spoilers, don't read the book since the first chapter reveals what happens right up front. Everyone else *should* read it. Often we labor under the assumption that because things are the way they are today, it must have been ever thus. This book will quickly disabuse you of that notion.The extraordinary story of two heroic black lawyers who championed the case of an innocent man, a sheriff more interested in political advancement than justice, mob rule, and one of the very few times when the Supreme Court has issued a contempt citation for failure to follow its rulings, and the importance of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. To quote Thurgood Marshall: " The Shipp case was perhaps the first instance in which the court demonstrated the the Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection clause have any substantive meaning to persons of the African-American race. . . .The import of the Sheriff Shipp case on the federal court's authority over state criminal cases should not be underestimated." It also meant that Justice Harlan was to become one of my most recent heroes.The case began with the assault on a young white woman who had been walking home from work when she was attacked by a black man and although she was never able to identify him precisely, a black man roughly meeting her description by the name of Ed Johnson was arrested. There was another witness who swore he had seen Johnson with a leather strap in the vicinity. Johnson unwaveringly swore his innocence and had several witnesses who maintained he had been several miles away at a bar.While Chattanooga had been a place of reasonable racial harmony for several years and had had no recent lynchings, (in fact, two well-respected local ministers, one having served with the union, the other with the Confederacy, were a strong force arguing against mob violence but they were out of town that evening) a mob formed when they heard someone had been arrested and was soon whipped into such a frenzy they began to batter down the doors of the jail. They were only persuaded from further violence when Sam, McReynolds, the judge assigned to the case showed up and offered to prove that Johnson was not even there. He and the Sheriff had arranged earlier in the day to have Johnson and another marginal suspect taken to another city. Finally satisfied, the mob dispersed.Before Gideon v Wainright, suspects had few rights and were not entitled to a lawyer. Unlike most states, however, Tennessee law required that a lawyer be appointed in capital cases. Also unlike today, which practice is now forbidden, it was common for judges to meet with prosecutors to plan the prosecution. The question was whom to appoint as the defense attorneys for John after the grand jury had returned a "true bill" of indictment. Despite numerous efforts, the Sheriff had been unable to get a confession from Johnson who continued to swear to his innocence.The authors do a masterful job of portraying the case. The three court appointed lawyers really did their best against a stacked deck, especially Judge Shepherd who, in an impassioned summation to the jury, ripped the judge and prosecutors for not giving Johnson a fair trial. Initially the jury was split 8-4 for conviction, but after the judge sent them home for the night, he met with the prosecutors. No one knows what happened during that meeting but everyone feared the eruption that would occur should Johnson be found innocent or there be a hung jury. In any case, immediately upon returning to their deliberations the next morning, the jury announced they had a verdict and all four of the holdouts had changed their minds. The trial itself had some startling scenes with a couple of jurors, in tears, requesting that the victim be brought back to testify and *they* asked her if she could swear that Johnson was her attacker. She never could with certainty. After the verdict Shepherd wanted to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court but three more lawyers, appointed by the court, picked in a closed door meeting with the prosecution (highly unethical behavior) and, it was later admitted by the judge, two of whom were picked by the prosecution, persuaded Johnson, and the other lawyers that *even if he was innocent* it was better to be hung in the course of *justice* rather than by a lynch mob. When they announced their decision not to appeal the verdict, an extraordinary decision, the judge sentenced Johnson to hang, the penalty for rape in Tennessee.They had failed to reckon with Noah Parden, whose resume alone is worth a book. His trip to Washington where he convinced Justice Harlan to issue a stay of execution and the later decision that resulted in the federal application of basic rights to the states under the 14th amendment is riveting. What Parden had managed to do was to persuade the Court of the need to apply the Sixth Amendment requirement of a fair trial to the states Due Process was not to mean simply did the rules get followed, but did the defendant get a fair trial. Equal Protection had to mean that black defendants would get the same presumptions of innocence and privileges accorded to white defendants.Unfortunately, the significance was perhaps not lost on the mob, which, horrified that the federal court might deign to dispute its cherished denial of black men's rights, decided to enforce its own brand of morality. The Supreme Court has no enforcement powers but what they did was, I believe, never before, nor since done. No spoilers here, read the book.To give you a small flavor of the endemic racism that pervaded American society at the time, it was the practice of lawyers admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court to kiss the Bible as they were sworn in. After black lawyers were admitted to the bar, that practice was dispensed with because white lawyers refused to have their lips touch anything that might have been sullied by black lips.Ed Johnson lies today forgotten in a closed African-American cemetery under a tombstone on which is inscribed, I AM A INNOCENT MAN. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.Interestingly, much of the research for the book was done at Tuskeegee University in Alabama which has a detailed record of virtually every lynching. Many of the original documents are in terrible shape and part of the proceeds of the book will be allocated to help the preservation of those materials.

  • Amy
    2019-03-04 12:02

    Rarely do you find biographies so readable and applicable to everyday life. Contempt of Court covers the trial and lynching of Ed Johnson, an African American accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, a jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened...and eventually went so far as to hold those connected to his lynching in contempt. It was the only time the Supreme Court ever heard a criminal case. United States v. Shipp did more than decide one man's guilt or innocence. It allowed the federal government to get involved in a state criminal court case. It both reflected and launched a new age of federal involvement. Very much worth reading.

  • Lawrence A
    2019-03-02 13:17

    The book revisits the genesis of 20th-century federal-court oversight of state-court criminal trials, particularly in the context of the epidemic of racially-motivated lynchings in the southern US between 1870 and 1906. The text clearly lays out the details of the injustice visited upon one Ed Johnson, an innocent African-American man from Chattanooga, TN, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. The authors describe his railroading through the Tennessee state court system, the all-white jury system in that state during the early 1900s, the racial bias of newspapers, prosecutors, the trial judge, and law enforcement officials, and Johnson's ultimate murder by a white mob aided and abetted by local law enforcement officials shortly after the US Supreme Court agreed to consider an appeal from a lower federal court's denial of his habeas corpus petition. Amazingly, after more than 30 years of diluting or ignoring rights guaranteed against states pursuant to the post-civil war Fourteenth Amendment, the US Supreme Court, in a novel contempt proceeding against a county sheriff, exercised its authority to enforce its own mandates against state and local officials.I hesitate to give the book more than 3 stars, however, in light of several factual errors I came across in the book [e.g., Theodore Roosevelt did not graduate from, or even attend, Harvard Law School, and it would thus have been impossible for him to have appointed attorney Edward Terry Sanford to the federal bench because they were classmates there--Roosevelt graduated from Harvard College, and later attended Columbia Law School for a short time, but dropped out of law school to run for the New York State Assembly; Miranda v Arizona, which articulated the Constitutional rights afforded to those accused of crimes while in police custody, was decided in 1966, not 1963], and the frequent melodramatic and over-exaggerated conclusions reached by the authors.Nonetheless, the book revisits an important and all-too-frequently forgotten era in US racial and judicial history.

  • Richard
    2019-03-02 13:15

    (Added because of Eric's enthusiastic five-star review).

  • Ruth
    2019-03-18 07:18

    Very interesting. A few glaring incorrect facts made me a little uneasy about the research quality.

  • Rocky
    2019-03-05 11:22

    Every lawyer should read this book, if not every person on the planet. Contempt of Court takes us back in time to 1906, when juries were composed solely of white men, lynchings were carried out with the complicit approval of law enforcement, and when the accused had few due process protections. And, it tells the story of black heroes which history has forgotten. (view spoiler)[Ed Johnson, a black man, was accused of raping a white woman. Although dozens of alibi witnesses testify to his actual innocence, Johnson's guilt was already established by the color of his skin. The same day Johnson was arrested, the newspapers rallied the angry white men into a frenzy and a lynching was attempted that very night. Since that moment, the Sheriff, Judge, and Prosecutor conspired to hang Johnson before the lynch mob could do it. They were nearly successful, until two black members of the bar initiated Johnson's appeal.(hide spoiler)]Two black lawyers, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins, appealed a rape conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Ed Johnson's execution, challenging the constitutionality of the procedures used to convict Johnson. (view spoiler)[To the surprise of all the local officials, the petition was successful and Johnson's execution was stayed until a oral argument could be held. But, the Supreme Court's order was fragrantly disregarded by the local officials who abandoned the jail and Johnson to the mob. (hide spoiler)]Even though Parden never got to argue the appeal on the merits, every single constitutional issue raised in the appeal became legal precedent in the decades to follow. In decisions that spread out over 50 years, the justices endorsed and implemented Parden's original arguments into the law of the land:1923 - A trial which a lynch mob puts undue pressure on the judge, lawyers, or jury, or improperly influence the outcome of the case, violates a defendants constitutional right of due process. The leaders of lynch mobs were almost never arrested. Of the 65 people murdered by lynch mobs in 1906, only three arrest were made (pp. 216).1948 - All criminal trials in state or federal courts must open tot he public. Johnson's parents, his supporters, or any black people, were excluded from the court room during the trial. The only black man in the court room was the defendant.1963 - Violation of defendant's fifth amendment right against self-incrimination for a suspect to be questioned without allowing the suspect's lawyer to be present. Also illegal for police to use force to obtain a confession. Johnson was questioned by the Sheriff many times, the Sheriff using every possible tactic to force a confession. But, Johnson always said he was innocent. His last words to the lynch mob were: "God bless you all; I am innocent," which was engraved on his tumbstone.1967 - Defendant has a right to an effective attorney. Defendant has a right to have an attorney present during a witness ID line-up. Johnson did not have an attorney present during the line-up, and he was abandoned by his attorneys once the trial was over.1970 - Local courts may not systematically exclude black people from jury service. Although, in 1906 federal courts were not allowed to exclude black people from the jury, it was not the case for state courts. And, it was the practice in many southern states to exclude black people and women. It is a shame it took until 1970 for this to become the law.1972 - Death penalty could no longer be used as a punishment in rape cases. The death penalty was dis-proportionally applied to black defendants, men and women. While white people were often not even arrested for the crime of rape, a black person would be zealously prosecuted and would pay with their life. Which goes to show, how the law is applied is equally as important as enacting the law itself.This book should be in the hands of every high school, college, and law student in the United States. This book tells an important story that was nearly lost to history and is essential to understanding who we are as Americans, U.S. criminal procedure, constitutional law, the very reason we have the law in the first place.

  • Mike
    2019-02-23 13:24

    I'm not entirely sure how I could elaborate upon Contempt of Court except to say it's a competently-written and well-paced journey through the details of a lynching that occurred in defiance of a stay of execution. The catch? The stay was issued, in unprecedented fashion, by the Supreme Court. It is a pleasurable, gripping read that implicates white people in all of the most predictable of ways; one of my favorite motifs in the book is just how much the state resents the authority of the Supreme Court. It seems that federal intervention is an insult to the hubris of the "smart" and "lawful" people of Chattanooga, and the city rebels in ways characteristic of an impudent child rebelling against its parents. The contempt for the Supreme Court - and any authority larger than Tennessee's - relies on a bit of circular reasoning, i.e. we hate the feds because we hate them, but that hasn't stopped this mystifying rivalry from dying down all that much since then. The "states' rights" rallying cry is still a lousy surrogate for unbridled bigotry.Another tidbit I've enjoyed is the story of a reverend for a church that speaks against the lynch mob in the town, condemning them as wrathful, depraved sinners who defied God by defying the rule of law. The man accuses all of the lynching attendees - who did, for the most part, walk away with their reputations intact and their rap sheet clean - for having blood on their hands. Many sermons were given in the Chattanooga churches beseeching the churchgoers not to lynch the innocent man Ed Johnson. And yet, these Bible-thumping, church-going patrons of the Lord very conveniently brushed aside their commitment to benevolence. I can pretend to be surprised if you'd like. Throw in how often wives of white terrorists will lie under oath that their husband wasn't chopping off the genitals of a condemned yet innocent man, and you get a decent picture of how religion really does play in some of these places. Again, I can pretend to be surprised if you'd like. It makes me realize that perhaps we are too quick to condemn some of the more redeeming components of organized religion, because even when its proponents and gatekeepers are consciously rallying for justice and peace, it falls on the deaf ears of hot-tempered racists hiding behind the guise of "defending womanhood." So it goes.The book comes at a time when the country needs to remember why the Supreme Court had to assert its authority and create the boundaries by which the Supreme Court itself can act and function, a time when once again the latest crop of racist, religious conservatives wish to chip away at the federalism in which the two rulings discussed in this book are enshrined. Contempt of Court is another puzzle piece in the elaborate panorama of "America-as-black-history," and I am happy to continue putting in those puzzle pieces. Black history is a crucial literature for understanding this nation, one of the only ways to not get an over-mythologized or downright bullshit rendition of our bloodied, miserable country.

  • Frances
    2019-02-26 07:13

    A very accessible telling of the lynching that occurred in Chattanooga in 1906 of a seemingly innocent man of color accused of assaulting and raping a young white woman. The man was not given a fair trial. Through the bravery and perseverance of two local black lawyers, the case made its way to the US Supreme Court. Angered by a perceived delay in justice, a local mob broke into the jail and took the defendant to be lynched while local authorities turned a blind eye. The Supreme Court acted with a contempt of court order for the local sheriff and a number of men who participated in the mob. This historic case helped that court seal its place as a court with power over the whole country and above state courts. It began a time of increasing basic rights for all men (and eventually woman) regardless of race or place in society.Supreme Court Justice John Harlan: Let it be said that I am right rather than consistent.Attorney Noah Parden, November 1909: We are at a time when many of our people have abandoned the respect for the rule of law due to the racial hatred deep in their hearts and souls, nothing less than our civilized society is at stake.

  • Drew
    2019-02-27 14:04

    It wasn't until 1970 that the Supreme Court proclaimed that you couldn't systematically bar black people from jury service. Clearly, that should've happened a lot earlier, especially given the case of United States v. Shipp, back in 1906, which exposed a Chattanooga judicial system and police department as racist to the core. That particular case was the aftermath of an orchestrated mob lynching of a black man named Ed Johnson wrongfully accused of rape. And guess who got a monument afterwards? Not the black lawyers Noah W. Parden and Styles L. Hutchins who took the initial injustice to the Supreme Court. Nope. The former Confederate captain and complicit sheriff, Joseph Shipp, after serving time for contempt of court. (His defense was all about "states' rights.")

  • Jeanne Holverstott
    2019-03-07 12:58

    Great story. However, repetition and redundancy hampered my enjoyment.

  • David Akerson
    2019-03-10 08:18

    I loved this book. Much of the book focuses on the collaboration of the law enforcement, judiciary and the press with the criminal conspiracy to convene a lynch mob. As much as we pay homage to freedom of the press and its role as the Fourth Estate in the US, the press in Chattanooga was instrumental in fostering the climate that allowed the lynching to take place. The Fourth Estate moniker implies that the press serves as a cudgel against harm being done by the other Estates. But that was not the case in Tennessee in 1906, at least in this instance. The Estates, as it were, were fully committed to the commission of a grave offense and the press was a willing and enthusiastic participant. And for what it is worth, the newspaper in Chattanooga was owned and operated by none other than Adolph Ochs who went on to own the New York TimesThe Supreme Court intervention is also interesting, particularly for lawyers and civil rights activists as in some ways the modern civil rights struggle becomes acute in Chattanooga with this case. But to me the most interesting and revelatory aspect of the book is the detailed description of how the lynch mob in Chattanooga operated from beginning to end. The book portrayed clearly that the lynch mob was organized - not random -and could not have existed without the complicity of law enforcement. I'm sure some lynch mobs were random and spontaneous, but many I suspect most were facilitated by the police or sheriffs -- who in turn were fully complicit and criminally responsible for the acts of the mobs. To me, the book highlights how for much of our history, law enforcement and the judiciary not only failed to uphold the law and constitution, but were in fact criminal actors in our nation's great but unindicted conspiracy.

  • Doris
    2019-03-10 13:07

    This interesting and thought-provoking book was recommended by a friend. He didn't give his thoughts on it, just said he'd read it. I am very glad he shared, because in this book we see how lawyers used a vast micarriage of justice to begin the path that led to what nowadays we think of as normal rights: the right to a lawyer, the right to appeal, the right to not self-incriminate. In addition, this book details some of the background that led to the Miranda case (and thus the term "Mirandizing a suspect").This was the first time a criminal case was ever brought before the Supreme Court, and the decisions still richochet.Fantastic, well researched, well written.The only thing not truly explored, and never proved, was if the lynching victim this book revolves around, a black man named Ed Johnson, was truly innocent. If I was on the jury I would say not guilty, but there just isn't enough evidence remaining to prove guilt or innocence. However, the book lays out the facts that there was not enough evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to convict him. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history, is outraged at injustice, or is interested in Southern history and black history in particular.

  • Felix
    2019-03-20 10:04

    This book covers the last lynching in my hometown of Chattanooga, TN. Although I had heard the basic story of this murder, I had never read this book, which is a collaboration between a local trial attorney, Leroy Phillips, and a Dallas crime news reporter, Mark Curriden.A well-researched and heavily annotated book which still reads like a crisp and vivid narrative. The lynching of Ed Johnson occurred on an old bridge still spanning the Tennessee River at Chattanooga. The bridge has been restored as a pedestrian park, part of the Tennessee Riverpark. Joggers, cyclists and skaters cross and re-cross the spans where a mob hanged, shot and mutilated Mr. Johnson over a hundred years ago.I recommend this book highly.

  • Don
    2019-03-22 09:07

    This is an incredible book about a little known case from Tennessee that the circumstances eventually led to a contempt trial before the United States Supreme Court. Being one hundred years ago, it is amazing to read this and realize how substantively our laws have changed, and our society. One will be appalled that such things - like a lynching - could happen such a short time ago. Being in the legal profession, its also appalling to see so many in that profession allow such travesties as a mockery of a trial occur. While I think the book is superbly written, and engrossing as can be for non-fiction history, I imagine lawyers, particularly those that deal with either constitutional law or criminal defense (or both), will find this book incredibly fascinating. Terrific read.

  • Obed Calderon
    2019-03-16 07:21

    I picked this book up at the local library and I must say it did not expect it to grab my attention the way it did. I began to read it thinking I was going to just flip through it and before you know it I was half way through it. I began to research more online and was very intrigued by the story. I love history and I love to read about law cases. I am not a lawyer, but I do find law to be very interesting. It truly is a sad story of history and how people in some cases were, and how they still remain to be to one another regardless of race. This book would make an amazing film for law fanatics and historians alike.

  • Tabitha
    2019-03-19 09:05

    This book will have you questioning the motives of people and the government in the past. This book was written to show evidence on how the character, an African American male, in the book who was accused of raping a Caucasian female was innocent. It goes into details of multiple accounts of how evidence was planted and how rights were violated. The strongest aspect of this book is the very tiny details that they give every step of the way to explain the truth. It will definitely have you thinking about how society was in the past and how it is today.

  • Jodi
    2019-03-13 15:01

    Best "legal" book I've ever read. Great human drama during the tragedy of racism tracing the only case in which the United States Supreme Court held parties in contempt of court. Whenever I start thinking the feds have too much power, I begin to think of this book and the attitude of the folks from Chattanooga: "The feds have no business sticking their nose into our business; we'll string up who we want."

  • Holly
    2019-02-26 08:55

    I wish much of this book wasn't so relevant today, but it is. Here's a quote from one of the lawyers that was discussed in the book. His name was Noah Parden and he said this in 1909: "We are at a time when many of our people have abandoned the respect for the rule of law due to the racial hatred deep in their hearts and souls, and nothing less than our civilized society is at stake."1909. It's now 2016. Has anything really changed?

  • R
    2019-03-11 11:14

    "News of Ed Johnson's arrest quickly spread throughout the community. As the sun went down, hundreds of people--mostly young and middle aged white men from the suburbs--journeyed on streetcars and by horse into town for drink and conversation. But the only topic on their mind seemed to be the 'Negro brute.'"

  • Jason Morgan
    2019-03-03 11:25

    This is a good book, especially if you want to see what a trial looked like for a black man in the south during the early 20th century. It sad to see that history has failed to recognize the lawyers in this book and their work and cases like this one should be taught not on in law schools but in schools period.

  • Daniel Weiner
    2019-03-15 13:01

    Couldn't put this down. I am now reading Just Mercy and it's sad that there are so many similarities in a case described in that book (probably a situation played out again and again) to the case in Contempt of Court.

  • Jennifer Cassell
    2019-03-13 11:10

    A bit long at times, but a good narrative history of the first contempt trial at the US Supreme Court. The 1906 case was critical at establishing the supremacy of the federal court system over the states.

  • Bill Adamson
    2019-03-13 14:14

    I just finished this book. I consider it a great historic description of much of the South during that period. People of this day have little understanding of what life was like for blacks. I have a background in law enforcement so I found the book even more interesting.

  • Tim
    2019-03-18 07:18

    This is by far the best book that I have been required to read for my current doctoral program. I love the writing style of the authors and found their recount of the history to be suspensful. I couldn't put it down!!

  • Chad
    2019-02-28 07:13

    A very well written book that discusses a landmark case that has unfortunately been forgotten. The story is remarkable and keeps the book going, but equally important are the implications for federal-state relations and Constitutional Law resulting from these events.

  • Abby
    2019-02-22 08:14

    I had to read this one for a class, and I'm glad I did. Living in Chattanooga my whole life, and I never knew that such a huge Supreme Court case spurred from here. What a great piece of city history.

  • Bernie Ohare
    2019-02-25 14:18

    One of the best portrayals of our legal system that I've ever read, explaining why federal review of state criminal cases can be so necessary.

  • Diskojoe
    2019-03-25 10:12

    This book was recommended by my boss, who lent me his copy. Well-written account of an important but obscure moment in American legal history.

  • Jason huber
    2019-02-22 13:55

    Should be req'd reading for C.J. Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas.

  • Xio
    2019-03-08 15:18

    Well told, not gripping but interesting. I forget most of the case off the top of my head but I recall being pretty pissed off by the circumstances of the defendant.