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

Related story: 1906 Tennessee Conviction Overturned
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