Chattanooga, Tennessee – The last time a mob gathered at the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga for Ed Johnson was to witness his lynching.
In 1906, Johnson, a black man, was wrongly accused of raping a white woman and sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, which suspended his execution. But a bloodthirsty mob dragged Johnson out of his jail cell and hanged him from the bridge.
“For the first time in its existence, the Supreme Court intervened in a state criminal prosecution. No one thought this was going to happen, ”said United States District Court Judge Curtis Collier.
Johnson’s last words are engraved on his gravestone: “God bless you all. I am an innocent man.
As statues of Johnson and the lawyers who defended him were unveiled on Sunday, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly issued a formal apology, inspiring a standing ovation.
“It was a blatant injustice,” said Kelly, explaining why it’s important to talk about what happened 115 years ago. “I think this process of reconciliation is really of crucial importance for the city.”
Eric Atkins, co-chair of the Ed Johnson Project, which has advocated a permanent memorial for Johnson, said he was 10 or 11 when he learned of the lynching.
“When I think of this memorial,” he said, “I think it will be the symbol of where people learn that we are much better together than we are divided.”