January 23, 1906

Twenty-one-year old Nevada Taylor, on her way home from her bookkeeping job in downtown Chattanooga, is raped by a black man "with a soft, kind voice" shortly after 6:30 p.m. in St. Elmo Cemetery. Sheriff Joseph Shipp directs a search for the rapist, witnesses, and evidence. The search turns up only a black leather strap used in the rape.

 January 24, 1906 Shipp offers a $50 reward to anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the St. Elmo rapist. By the next day, the reward fund grows to $375. 
 January 25, 1906 Will Hixon, a white man who worked near the rape scene, tells Shipp that he saw a black man "twirling a leather strap around his finger" shortly before the rape. Hixon later calls Shipp to report having seen the suspect walking toward town. Shipp eventually finds the suspect, Ed Johnson, riding on an ice truck and arrests him. Shipp questions Johnson for three hours, but Johnson claims to know nothing of the rape. Over 1,500 people gather in the courtyard in front of the jail where they assume Johnson is being held. Many in the crowd have guns or rope. The lynch mob storms the jail. Tennessee Governor Cox orders the National Guard to protect the jail, but it is heavily damaged. Johnson, who had been moved to Nashville earlier in the day out of a concern that he might be lynched, is unharmed. 
 January 26, 1906 Shipp, in an interview in the Nashville Banner, expresses outrage over the attack on his jail. 
 January 27, 1906 Nevada Taylor travels to the county jail in Nashville to identify her attacker. Johnson and another black man are asked to stand in front of her and speak several sentences. Taylor says Johnson was "like the man as I remember him." She says he "has the same soft, kind voice." Taylor also issues a statement deploring mob violence Shipp telegrams Judge S. S. McReynolds and asks him to proceed with the grand jury. That afternoon, Hamilton County District Attorney Matt Whitaker presents evidence against Johnson. The grand jury votes to issue and indictment of Johnson for the rape of Taylor. 
 January 28, 1906  Judge McReynolds appoints Lewis Shepherd, W. G. M. Thomas, and Robert Cameron to represent Ed Johnson.
 February 2, 1906  The Nashville Banner publishes an interview with Ed Johnson in which he protests his innocense. Shepherd and Thomas meet with their client for the first time in a Nashville jail.
 February 6, 1906  Johnson is returned under a heavily-armed guard to Chattanooga for the start of his trial. Nevada Taylor testifies, identifying Johnson as her attacker. Will Hixon tells the jury, "This defendant here is the Negro I saw" with a strap in his hand. Johnson testifies that he was at the Last Chance Saloon at the time of the rape, a claim supported by a number of saloon patrons.
 February 7, 1906  The defense calls 17 additional witnesses, then rests.
 February 8, 1906  Taylor testifies for a second time. Asked by a juror whether she "can state positively that this is the Negro," Taylor answers, "I will not swear that he is the man, but I believe he is the Negro who assaulted me." A juror yells, "If I could get at him, I'd tear his heart out right now." Closing arguments are delivered and the case goes to the jury.
 February 9, 1906  After seven hours of deliberation, the jury returns its verdict of "Guilty." Fearing a lynching, defense lawyers convince Johnson to waive his right to appeal. Judge McReynold's sentences Johnson to be hanged on March 13.
 February 10, 1906 Skinbone Johnson, Ed's father, visits black attorney Noah Parden and tells him his son does want to appeal. Parden and his law partner, Styles Hutchins, agree to plan an appeal. 
 February 11, 1906 Parden convinces Lewis Shepherd to assist in Johnson's appeal. 
 February 12, 1906  Johnson's attorneys tell Judge McReynolds they plan to appeal. The judge suggests that they return the next day to file their motion.
 February 13, 1906  Parden and Hutchins file a motion for a new trial. Judge McReynolds denies the motion, holding that it was filed one day too late.
 February 20, 1906  Parden files a writ of error and asks the the Tennessee Supreme Court to postpone Johnson's execution.
 March 3, 1906  The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously declines to postpone Johnson's execution.
 March 7, 1906 Parden files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court in Knoxville. He alleges that his client was denied due process, a fair and impartial trial, and equal protection of the laws in violation of the U. S. Constitution. District Judge Charles Clark issues an order temporarily preventing Sheriff sShipp from taking Johnson from Knoxville, where he was imprisoned, to Chattanooga. 

March 10, 1906


A hearing is held in federal district court in Knoxville to consider Johnson's constitutional claims. District Attorney Whitaker defends the state's actions in the Johnson case.

 March 11, 1906  At 12:47 a. m., Judge Clark issues his ruling. He holds that the 6th Amendment guarantee of an impartial trial does not apply to state trials. He does, however, stay Johnson's execution until March 23 to allow time for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
 March 12, 1906  Shipp and other official publicly question whether a federal judge has the power to postpone the execution for ten days.
 March 13, 1906 Governor Cox, with the consent of Judges McReynolds and Clark, attempts to resolve the debate over which execution date to follow by setting a third date: March 20. 
 March 15, 1906 About 1:30 a. m., someone sets fire to the woodframe building in which Parden and Hutchins rent office space. The fire is extinguished without major damage. In the afternoon, Parden boards a train for Washington, D. C. 
 March 16, 1906 Parden meets with Emanuel Hewlett to discuss Johnson's emergency petition to the Supreme Court. 
 March 17, 1906  Parden and Hewlett plead Johnson's case for a writ of habeas corpus before Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the justice who dissented in the famous case of Plessy vs. Ferguson.
 March 18, 1906 Parden boards a train for Chattanooga. Justice Harlan meets with other Supreme Court justices at the home of Chief Justice Fuller. In an unprecedented move, the Court decides to issue an order granting Johnson's appeal and staying his execution. 
 March 19, 1906 Parden and Hutchins celebrate their victory. About 8:00 p. m., a group of men carrying guns approach the jail where Ed Johnson is being held. The mob begins an attack on the jail. They batter their way through one door after another until they get into Johnson's cell. Johnson closes his eyes and recites the 23rd Psalm. At 11:20, the thugs finally get to Johnson, throw a rope over his neck and march him outside to the cheers of the mob. Johnson is paraded six blocks to the Walnut Street Bridge. His last words before he is swung by rope over the Tennessee River are "God bless you all. I am innocent." 
 March 20, 1906 Blacks in Chattanooga protest the lynching of Ed Johnson by staying home from work. The mayor orders all saloons closed and 200 men are deputized. In Washington, justices of the Supreme Court meet to discuss what might be done about the lynching. Justice Harlan says, "the mandate of the Supreme Court has for the first time in the history of the country been openly defied by a community." Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes tells reporters, "In all likelihood, this was a case of an innocent man improperly branded a guilty brute and condemned to die from the start." President Theodore Roosevelt also condemned the lynching, calling it "contemptuous of the Court." 
 March 21, 1906 President Roosevelt meets with Attorney General William Moody and orders an investigation by the Secret Service of the lynching. In Chattanooga, 2,000 mourners attend Ed Johnson's funeral. 
 March 25, 1906 In his Sunday sermon at the First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, the city's establishment church for whites, pastor Howard Jones strongly criticizes the lynchers and their sympathizers. 
 March 27, 1906 Joseph Shipp is re-elected sheriff in a landslide. 
 April 5, 1906 Chattanooga papers report that Rev. Jones told Secret Service detectives that he had called the police to report the lynching, but found them unwilling to act. At night, Jones' home is set on fire. 
 April 20, 1906  Secret Service agents file a report indicating that they had evidence implicating 21 members of the mob and officials, including Sheriff Shipp.
 May 17, 1906 Attorney General Moody meets with Chief Justice Fuller and Justice Harlan to plan the federal response to the lynching. Moody agrees to charge those involved with criminal contempt of the Supreme Court, a charge never before brought. 
 May 28, 1906  The Department of Justice files papers at the Supreme Court accusing named individuals, including Shipp and his deputies, of contempt of court.
 October 15, 1906 The defendants and their lawyers appear in Washington before the justices of the Supreme Court to enter their pleas. All members of the mob plead "not guilty,"claiming alibis or mistaken identities. 
 December 4, 1906 Oral arguments are held before the Supreme Court on the question of whether the Court had jurisdiction to consider the contempt charges against the 27 defendants. Arguments continue for two days, mostly focusing on whether the Johnson case had raised a genuine constituional issue. At one point in the argument, Justice Holmes asks a lawyer for the defendant, "But you would agree that this Court has the authority to determine that the Sixth Amendment [guarantee of a fair trial] is binding on the state courts, do you not?" Defense lawyers also argue that their clients sworn statements entitle them to discharge from the proceedings. 
 December 24, 1906 In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Holmes, the Court announces that it has jurisdiction to try the 26 defendants. 
 February 12, 1907 James Maher, deputy clerk of the Supreme Court, begins taking evidence in the United States Custom House in Chattanooga in the trial of Shipp and the other defendants. Testimony from 31 government witnesses concerning the lynching continues for five days, then the trial is recessed until June. 
 June 15, 1907 Defense lawyers began presenting their witnesses. 
 June 29, 1907 The defense rests. 
 November, 1908 The Court dismisses charges against 17 defendants. The Court announces that it will hear oral arguments in March before rendering a verdict in the nine remaining cases, including that of Sheriff Shipp.
 March 2, 1909 Attorney General Charles Bonaparte present the closing argument for the government before the Supreme Court in Washington. 
 March 3, 1909 Defense attorneys present closing arguments for the nine defendants. 
 May 24, 1909  Chief Justice Fuller announces the Court's decision in United States vs. Shipp et al. The Court concludes "it is absurd to contend" that Shipp "did not know a lynching would probably be attempted on the 19th," that he "acquiesed" in the lynching, and that he demonstrated "utter disregard for this court's mandate." The Court found Shipp, the jailer, and four members of the lynch mob guilty. The other defendants were found not guilty. The Court ordered U. S. marshals to arrest Shipp and the other convicted persons and to bring them to Washington for sentencing.
 November 15, 1909 Chief Justice Fuller asks Shipp and the other convicted men to rise before the bench of the assembled justices of the Supreme Court. Shipp and two other defendants are sentenced to 90 days imprisonment in the U. S. Jail in the District of Columbia. The other three defendants receive 60 day sentences. 
 January 30, 1910 Having completed his sentence, Shipp arrives home to a hero's welcome. 10,000 Chattanooga residents greet Shipp at Terminal Station. 
 September 18, 1925 Shipp dies. He is buried a few days later in Forest Hills Cemetery, the same cemetery in which Nevada Taylor was raped. 
 February 24, 2000 Hamilton County Criminal Judge Doug Meyer overturns Ed Johnson's conviction and death sentence. Leroy Phillips, co-author of a 1999 book about the Shipp case (Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching that Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism), filed the petition on behalf of Johnson to have his 94-year-old conviction overturned.