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Contempt of Court: The Turn of the Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism

Curriden, Mark (AUTOGRAPHED)/Phillips Jr., LeRoy

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ISBN 10: 0571199526 / ISBN 13: 9780571199525
Published by Faber and Faber 3rd printing, NY, 1999
From Barbarossa Books Ltd. (IOBA) (Bainbridge Island, WA, U.S.A.)

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SIGNED BY CO- AUTHOR CURRIDEN, xviii, 394 p., photos, appendices, notes on sources, biblio, index, 8vo; Fine/Fine dust jacket. Bookseller Inventory # 48641

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Contempt of Court: The Turn of the Century ...

Publisher: Faber and Faber 3rd printing, NY

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

About this title


The case by which the U.S. Supreme Court declared itself the highest court in the land.

When Ed Johnson, a black man, was wrongly convicted in 1906 of rape and sentenced to death in Tennessee, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan issued a stay of execution, declaring that Johnson's right to a fair trial had been violated and that he had been railroaded through the criminal justice system. The interference of the Supreme Court was not well received back in Chattanooga. A violent mob answered this federal "interference" by dragging Johnson from his jail cell, beating him, and hanging him from a bridge. Local police did nothing to prevent the lynching, nor were any members of the mob arrested. For the first and only time in history, an enraged Supreme Court conducted a criminal trial to enforce its authority. It brought criminal contempt of court charges against the sheriff, his deputies, and members of the lynch mob.

The first book written about these highly charged events, Contempt of Court raises issues of federalism versus states' rights that are as timely today as they were ninety years ago. Johnson's case led to a precedent-setting criminal trial that is unique in the annals of American jurisprudence. Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips's riveting tale will prove essential reading for all interested in understanding how American justice works.


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

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