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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720823
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Prior to 1906, the U.S. Supreme Court had never tried a criminal case--and the high court had yet to assert its power over state criminal courts. That was all to change after the events of a cold January night earlier that year in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Blond, beautiful, 21-year-old Nevada Taylor had hopped on one of Chattanooga's new electric trolleys after work. Before she could reach home, the young woman was waylaid and raped by an unknown assailant. At first Taylor couldn't describe her attacker to town sheriff Joseph Shipp, as she hadn't seen the man clearly, but she soon became convinced he was "a Negro with a soft, kind voice." In just 17 days, a drifter dubbed a "Negro fiend" by the Chattanooga News had been hastily arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang.

Two idealistic black lawyers intervened, filing appeals to the state and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the numerous rights denied the most-likely innocent Ed Johnson. (One of the attorneys said of the suspect, "But for the will of God, that is me.") The high court agreed to hear the appeal, staying the Tennessee execution. But back in Chattanooga, the politically minded Sheriff Shipp looked the other way as a bloodthirsty crowd of hundreds broke Johnson out of jail, beat him brutally, and lynched him on the county bridge.

Mark Curriden, a legal writer for the Dallas Morning News, and Leroy Phillips, a Chattanooga trial attorney, have painstakingly researched and vividly recounted the events of this oft-overlooked but significant episode in America's legal history, from the details of the original crime to the eventual federal conviction of Shipp and members of the lynch mob for contempt. A superb combination of journalistic storytelling and academic rigor. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Contempt of Court tells this story in great detail, bringing all of the characters to life.
Alan Mills
They've done a wonderful job of recreating the passions and pressures of a southern city in the Jim Crow era.
Richard Alm
I would highly recommend Contempt of Court to anyone who has an interest in American history.
Anthony Pace

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Richard Alm on December 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Contempt of Court presents a history of a long-ago legal proceeding, an important one now nearly forgotten. Curriden and Phillips keep it engaging from start to finish. They've done a wonderful job of recreating the passions and pressures of a southern city in the Jim Crow era. Readers get more than an understanding of the law. They get to know the people who participated in a landmark case -- from Noah Parden, a black lawyer who battled overwhelming odds to take a poor man's case to the Supreme Court, to Sheriff Joseph Schipp, who let a lynch mob subvert the rule of law. The book offers many well-drawn scenes, such as the crime against Nevada Taylor, Parden's audience with Justice John Marshall Harlan and the lynching itself. All are sketched in great detail. And there's the jail-house prayer service the African-American community held for Ed Johnson, an innocent man, who facing death, found dignity and faith in God. Contempt of Court proves that American law isn't only about legal arguments. It's also abou living, breathing human beings, with their capacities for heroism and evil.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Pace on December 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Contempt of Court shines light into one of darkest chapters of America's race relations. Curriden and Phillips deserves high kudos for uncovering the sad story of Ed Johnson and revealing its significance to modern race relations. Like all good history writing Curriden and Phillips make us care about their characters. Set in the late Southern Reconstruction period in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Contempt of Court covers quite of a bit of intellectual territory without being over bearing, including: early 20th century Southern race relations, Supreme Court process, the terror of mob lynching and the impact of journalism of that era. I would highly recommend Contempt of Court to anyone who has an interest in American history. In retrospect, I can't think of a legal case that has had more impact on today's legal system than the trial of Ed Johnson. This case provides the precedent for modern Federalism and the concept that the protection of minority rights supersedes state rights. After finishing Contempt of Court I am left to wonder about how many other important stories from this tragic era are left untold.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read a pre-published transcript of this book,and it is an exciting incite into a fasinating event in the history of our country.l suspect like most people,including professional historians,Ihad never heard of these events.I predict a movie will be made of this book.Two African American lawyers in 1906 in a small southern town struggle desperately and with great courge to save the life of a poor illerate Negro acused and convicted of raping a white woman.He is sentenced to death by a bigoted all white jury .At the risk of their lives,the lawyers seek relief in a federal court ,and when it is denied ,they have the intestinal fortitude to seek an appeal to the U S Supreme Court in Washington and 1906 this was a world away.To the astonishment of everyone old Justice John Marshall Harlan grants the appeal and orders a stay of his execution.This''interference'' by the highist court in the land infuriates the local white supremists,and with the acquiesence of the sheriff who is up for reelection,a mob breaks into the jail and succeeds in lynching the poor Black man.On his toomb stone is chiseled his last words to the vicious mob; ''God BLESS YOU ALL.I AM AN INNOCENT MAN.When the Supreme Court reads about the lynching in the Washington Post the next day, they are furious.The Justices persuade President T Roosevelt to send the secret service in Chattanooga Tenn.the small southern town involved.Eventually,and for the first and only time in the history of the U S Supreme Court,the Justices try the sheriff his deputies and members of the mob .I will let you read about what happens in the historical and unprecedented trial.It is worth reading by history experts and by anyone interested in excellent material This one is headed for rewards.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. E Rothert on January 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I cannot believe I made it through a liberal arts education and law school without knowing about this story. That this is such a recent part of our history is sad and amazing. I look forward to someone making a movie out of this well-written book so that the masses will be exposed to it. This book should be read by anyone who has the slightest interest in our legal system.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By heart@mindspring.com on March 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Not only did I read the book, I typed and helped edit the book with the co-author, Leory Phillips. It was as if I was transported back in time to the early 1900's. The characters seemed to come alive and will live in my memory forever. It is a read well worth your while.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ray Walsh; Lansing State Journal on October 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Powerfully written and meticulously researched. This book takes you back to those dark, nightmarish days of "accepted" racial prejudice, especially in the South. The authors vividly review how an innocent black man, Ed Johnson, was brutally murdered, and how this act finally led to an awakening in the judicial system. A must read for all Americans, who believe in justice and deplore hate crimes.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on January 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips, Jr. in Contempt of Court look at the case of Ed Johnson, a black man given a stay of exection by Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan after he was tried and convicted for rape in a misguided and injudicial trial. The Supreme Court was ignored and the poor man was lynched which provoked the Supreme Court to the unusual action of becoming involved. This is a well written and exciting telling of the events and will carry the reader along on a wave of outrage. It is sure to be turned into an exciting film. It does not, unfortunately, tell the whole story of lynching, nor is to trying to. This one action by the Supreme Court belies the inactivity of the court and the justice system to stem the tide of lynching and racial injustice. But that story is told in other books and the reader will find this particular book a fascinating footnote on legal and racial history in America, both good and bad.
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