Sheriff Shipp Trial (1907-09)

"I am ready to die. But I never done it. I am going to tell the truth. I am not guilty. I have said all the time
that I did not do it, and it is true. I was not there. I know I am going to die and I have no fear to die
and I have no fear at all....God bless you all. I am innocent."
--The last words of Ed Johnson before he was lynched on the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga on March 19, 1906.

Only once in its history has the United States Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial. The trial, taking place in both Tennessee and the District of Columbia in 1907 and 1908, resulted in the conviction of a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, and four members of a Chattanooga lynch mob. Outraged justices ordered the trial on criminal contempt charges after an almost certainly innocent black man, having been convicted of raping a white woman, was lynched less than a day after word reached Chattanooga that his scheduled execution had been stayed by the U. S. Supreme Court.

The trial of Joseph F. Shipp et al. is a story of tragedy and heroism that had been all but forgotten until Mark Curriden, a Dallas reporter, and Leroy Phillips, Jr., a Chattanooga attorney, published their 1999 book, Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism.


The Shipp trial has its roots in a rape that took place on a dark January evening in 1906 in the St. Elmo district of Chattanooga. A blond and beautiful twenty-one-year old named Nevada Taylor left her bookkeeping job in downtown Chattanooga about 6:00 p. m. on Monday, January 23. She boarded an electric trolley for the twenty-minute ride to the station near the base of Lookout Mountain. Stepping off the trolley at the station near 35th street, Taylor began the short walk to her home, a cottage in Forest Hills Cemetery where her father was the groundskeeper. As she approached the cemetery gate, she felt her throat grabbed from behind and a voice say, "If you scream, I will kill you." The attack--which left Taylor unconscious--lasted only ten minutes...."Continued