Ed Johnson Memorial Unveiled this Fall at Walnut Street Bridge
On March 19, 1906, Ed Johnson woke in his third-floor jail cell to the possibility of hope. His execution, which had been scheduled for the following day, had been postponed. Johnson’s attorney, Noah Parden, along with attorney Emanuel Hewlett, had successfully argued before Supreme Court Chief Justice Harlan Marshall for a writ of habeas corpus. In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court issued an order granting an appeal and astay of execution.
By 8 p.m. that evening, any hope that Johnson may have felt earlier must have turned to terror, then despair and finally resolve that he would die at the hands of a lynch mob. After being pulled from his jail cell and bound with rope, he was marched down Walnut Street to what was then known as the County Bridge. Once at the bridge, he was momentarily hoisted from the second span but was quickly shot down by numerous bullets. His body lay on the bridge after receiving 50 shots.
The story of Johnson and his attorneys changed the course of justice in America forever with a series of historic precedents and legal firsts. Ed Johnson was the first African American awarded a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the first ruling by the Court to acknowledge the rights of the 14thamendment applied to an African American man.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, a little over 115 years since the lynching, the Ed Johnson Memorial will be unveiled at the south end of the Walnut Street Bridge. The days-long dedication organized by the Ed Johnson Project (EJP) will include history panels, artist talks, art exhibits, and other experiences. The event will feature a keynote from the New York Times bestselling author and chair of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies, Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.
“America is at a crossroads. We can choose silence and shame or remembrance and honor. It has been 115 years since the killing of Ed Johnson, and the time has come to bring honor to his name and to his brilliant and bold attorneys, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins,” said Donivan Brown, EJP Chair, ahead of the dedication events. The memorial will help ensure Johnson’s story and those of thousands of other lynching victims will not be forgotten. EJP aims to promote reconciliation and healing by engaging local communities in remembering Johnson’s story and reflecting on its implications for us today.
About the Artists
In March 2018, renowned artist Jerome Meadows was chosen to create the Ed Johnson memorial. His team includes local Chattanooga artists Roger Halligan and Jan Chenoweth and members of Ross/Fowler Landscape Architecture Urban Design & Planning. The memorial will have three, life-size bronze sculptures of Ed Johnson, Noah Parden, and Styles Hutchins, as well as story walls and space for contemplation. It will include sculptures dedicated to the other three victims lynched in Hamilton County.
Meadows is a full-time studio artist working and residing in a historic Ice House in Savannah, Georgia. Originally from New York City, he’s been living in Savannah since 1997. A graduate with a BFA degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA degree from the University of Maryland, Mr. Meadows has been self-employed as a visual artist and public space designer since 1992. His focus in the arts has been in the design and fabrication of large-scale public art projects, including site layout, landscape issues, along with the conceptualization and fabrication of sculptural components all fully integrated into a cohesive whole.