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

4.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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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 (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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An amazing book, "Contempt of Court" traces the story of Ed Johnson, a poor black man accused of raping a young white woman. It's a tragic story yet an important and fascinating one. In it are two of the most significant issues in constitutional law, federal jurisdiction vs state jurisdiction and whether the Bill of Rights applies at state level. Throughout the book, it seems that the fate of poor Ed Johnson and the fact that he was almost certainly innocent gets forgotten while the legal issues take center stage, but the Epilogue on Ed Johnson rectifies this and can't help but make you smile. It's just so upsetting that the perpetrators get off with such a light sentencing. It is wonderfully written and an engrossing story. It's one of those rare, but satisfying, stories where justice (to the extent it could be) is done and the bad guys go to prison. I would highly recommend it if you have an interest in race relations or Constitutional law. But even if you don't, you'll find it just a great read. Well worth it.
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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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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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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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Contempt of Court is the compelling story of a Chattanooga lynching and its national repercussions. In February 1906, an uneducated black man--likely innocent--was convicted of raping a white woman in a brief, emotionally charged trial. When the U. S. Supreme Court stayed his execution pending appeal, a local mob, abetted by the conduct of the sheriff, murdered him on the night of March 16.

Because an order of the Supreme Court had been so deliberately flouted, the Court conducted its only criminal trial in history, with the Department of Justice bringing charges against the sheriff and some members of the lynch mob. The plaintiffs argued that the Court was not competent to hear the case; but in a unanimous decision, it ruled otherwise. After the Court pronounced the sheriff guilty of contempt, there was a significant increase in the number of attempted lynchings thwarted by law enforcement officers. The decision also reinforced the Supreme Court's right to intervene in state capital cases when constitutional due process was at issue.

The authors, one a lawyer and the other a legal affairs writer, have exhaustively researched this compelling (and sometimes moving) story, well explicating the pertinent legal issues. The writing itself is also very good, though fifty pages could have been trimmed from the book by excising unnecessary detail and block quotations, especially in the final third of the volume. There is a bibliography but no endnotes. Rarely have I read a book that might have used them to better advantage.
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