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Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism Paperback – February 20, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Review

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

From the Inside Flap

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720823
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #168,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 20 customer reviews
I ended up reading this book in a little over two days.
John D. Busteed
When Leroy Phillips, Jr. came to visit my school in Chattanooga, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that something like this could have happened in my city.
M. Miller
Their writing makes it seems like a well-written novel.
MaxLaw843

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on February 18, 2003
Black man accused of raping a white woman. Shakey identification. All white judge, jury, police, sheriff, and all lawyers on both sides. A death penalty case. A jury in the midst of trial jumps up and threatens to rip the defendant's heart out on the spot. He is found guilty. From date of crime to guilty verdict--one week. Defendant advised by his own lawyers after trial: you have two choices, waive appeal and let the State execute you, or appeal and let the mob lynch you.
Then two Black lawyers take up the case. The Supreme Court is horrified at the gross miscarriage of justice, and issues a stay. But the mob, with the Sheriff's apparent approval, decides the legal process is just taking too long, and lynches the defendant.
Contempt of Court tells this story in great detail, bringing all of the characters to life. A fascinating history of the role racism played in the courts at the turn of the century.
But the heart of the book is what followed the lynching. Unlike most cases which were quickly forgotten, the Supreme Court itself instituted contempt charges against the Sheriff for failing to carry out its stay of execution. This is the one and only contempt proceeding ever tried in the Supreme Court itself. It also marked the first time the federal courts had ever sought to review a state court criminal proceeding--setting the stage for such well known rules as "Miranda" and the exclusionary rule.
I completely agree with the blurb on the book's cover. This volume belongs on the shelf next to Simple Justice and Gideon's Trumpet.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Miller on March 9, 2003
When Leroy Phillips, Jr. came to visit my school in Chattanooga, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that something like this could have happened in my city. After his talk, I decided to read the book for myself. At first, I noticed that the authors took a lot of time to research the subject thoroughly, so much so that I think they know more about Chattanooga than I do, keeping in mind Leroy Phillips does live here. What also impressed me the most was the nonfiction story itself. The story is about a black man named Ed Johnson who was put on trial at first as a scapegoat. However, he eventually was a target for all anti-black aggressions. I mean, for me the 60's were scary, but the brutality and violence of the early 1900's, especially these incidents, are just terrifying. This book will show a detailed look at Chattanooga's past; it will show some historically fascinating law and court decisions, and it will just be an amazing read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. R. Wise on June 13, 2005
For one interested in the history of federalism in this country, the book is a must read. The book can be enjoyed by both lawyers and lawmen. If you want to understand how and why the United States Supreme Court became involved in declaring state laws unconstitutional and the need for the Federal Courts to apply the United States Constitution to actions of local officials, this book will enable you to understand those reasons. A true story of unhearald courage by a very determined and brave attorney.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John D. Busteed on November 9, 2003
I ended up reading this book in a little over two days. I was quickly hooked by the fascinating and horrifying story of Ed Johnson, an indigent black man, unjustly accused and convicted by an all-white judicial system that was very typical of the south at the turn of the century. Mr. Johnson's second set of lawyers, two courageous black lawyers, from Chattanooga appeal to the US Supreme Court and set the stage for the most intriguing case to ever be heard before the court. Read the book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MaxLaw843 on September 13, 2008
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There are times that I read non-fiction just to learn. Some non-fiction writers can bore the pants off of you, but NOT these two authors who have me hooked with every page. (I am slightly over halfway through.) Their writing makes it seems like a well-written novel. For this, they certainly should be commended.

I made it through law school without knowing the depth and breadth of this story. How glad I am that these authors wrote a chilling, legal thriller from the awful facts of the lynching of Ed Johnson, a black man who even the U.S. Supreme Court thought was innocent. Those horrible days of lynching are thankfully behind this great nation.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Karen Mielke on June 26, 2001
This was required reading for my first year law introductory class. I couldn't put it down! Well researched and written, the events that led up to the only contempt proceeding of the US Supreme Court in history are presented in vivid detail. The use of a wide variety of sources, including newspaper accounts and sermon notes, adds depth to our understanding of the social conditions in turn-of-the-century Chattanooga, TN. Beware! There is no escaping confrontation with the ugly racist history of the US in reading this book. Highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By S. Everett on March 8, 2007
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This is a terrific and rarely-told story from our nation's legal history. This well-written book will be fascinating to anyone who has an interest in the law, civil rights, our nation's history, or just in captivating stories.
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The U.S. Supreme Court has tried exactly one case in its more than two centuries of existence: U.S. v. Joe Shipp. This is the story of that extraordinary case, from the assault and rape of an innocent young woman through the amazing story of the highest court's involvement. The case and the events surrounding it are instructive, important and appalling. And, in Curriden's and Phillips' chronicle, extremely well told.

As a portrait of Chattanooga, Tennessee in the Jim Crow era, the novel paints and accurate, if unflattering portrait. As a study of lynching and vigilantism as a tool for preserving Jim Crow, the book does a wonderful job. And as a tale of courage and cowardice, parts are simply heartbreaking.

The story itself is simple: in a sham trial, Ed Johnson, an innocent black man was convicted of a crime he did not commit. The facts were so outrageous that the Supreme Court, no friend of either racial minorities or federalism in that era, was moved to act. The court ordered that Johnson's execution be stayed pending review. But Chattanooga took the law into its own hands, and a mob lynched Johnson while the authorities looked the other way. What the Court did in response marks a turning point in American constitutional law. And the Court's decision marked the beginning of the end of lynching in the South.

Meticulously researched and very well told, this is history at its best. Curriden and Phillips found a little-known but important story, and have told it in a away that not only illuminates a very dark time in U.S. history but also links that history to the present.

My highest recommendation.
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