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Ed Johnson’ Case of Lynching in America Essay

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Updated: May 4th, 2020

Society has always been concerned about the issue of justice. Since ancient times, this question has always been actual. Trying to get rid of crimes and guarantee reasonable punishment for criminals, people created different ways of determining whether a person was guilty or not and what kind of punishment his/her offense deserved. Usually, there were special people who tried to be fair and impartial. In such cases, they were rather professional and managed to make reasonable decisions that were supported with clear evidences. However, things became worse when non-professionals took matters in their hands.

There was a practice in the history of the world justice system when people managed to make a sentence without the help of a professional. This practice was called lynching. The main idea of it was that several dozens of people could render justice. This practice was very widely used at the beginning of the 20th century. Being rather doubtful remedy, this type of justice depended on the mood of people who composed it. Moreover, very often, it was initially preconceived.

The history of the USA is very rich in different cases of lynching of black men. Racial prejudices played a great role in the society of that period of time, that is why it was no wonder that Afro-Americans were main figurants in the majority of these cases (Perloff, 2000, p.315). Moreover, it is possible to say that very often, people already knew their decision before the process, and it was just a formality.

It is easy to guess that the number of unfair sentences was extremely high. Though this fact did not stop people, and this practice was still used. There was no time and desire to analyze whether a person was really guilty or not. Descriptions of these cases are available in storages, and now people start to understand the real state of affairs. With this in mind, it is possible to analyze one case of this type to understand the idea better.

The case of Ed Johnson can be taken as the basis for our study. “Ed Johnson was hanged in 1906 from a bridge spanning the Tennessee River by a mob that included Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph Shipp” (Green, 2000, para.2). He was a black man accused of rape. A combination of these facts can serve as the best evidence of unfair justice, which was based on racial prejudices as white men ruled in that community (A Sermon on Lynching, 1906).

With this in mind, it is possible to understand that though the fault of Ed Johnson was rather vague, being the black man he was the best candidate to be accused of rape and he was sentenced to the death penalty without hesitations (The Supreme Court Intervenes in the Ed Johnson Case, 1906). Fortunately, there are a lot of documentary records connected with this case, which helped to understand this accident and assure in Ed Johnsons innocence.

First of all, it is possible to look through the record of the star witness Nevada Taylor. It is possible to admit some inconsistencies in her story. The most striking is that it was rather dark, and she could not see her own house though, she managed to remember the face of the suspect (Testimony of Nevada Taylor, 1906). Moreover, according to her words, she was not totally sure as she only repeated that she believed in it. These words do not seem to be a good approval of Ed Johnsons fault. Though, being the star witness and white woman, her words had great importance for the court.

Additionally, she played upon religious strings addressing God and hoping for his justice (Ed Johnson Jury Stands 8 to 4 for Conviction, 1906). At the same time, Johnson rejected his guilt, stating the fact that the strap found at the crime scene was not his (Testimony of Ed Johnson, 1906). Moreover, he claimed that he was not there at the time of the rape, and there were a great number of people who saw him, guaranteeing his alibi (Says he is not Guilty, Says he is Not Guilty, 1906). The strap became the only evidence of his guilt as there were no other proofs or witnesses of the crime (Awful Crime At St. Elmo, 1906).

However, the whole community of St. Elmo was sure that the crime was committed by a black person and wanted to punish him (Feeling at High Pitch, 1906). That is why a mob consisting of around one thousand men stormed a jail, hoping to get imprisoned Ed Johnson and take revenge. (Law and Order Victorious over Overwhelming Odds, 1906).

Taking it into account, the results of this case are quite obvious. Having no patience and being sure in Ed Johnsons guilt, a dozen of the man with handkerchiefs over the lower part of their faces entered the prison (God Bless You All – I am Innocent, 1906). The black man was taken to the bridge and killed.

Analyzing this accident, it is possible to say that all actions and accidents that happened during this process seem to be survivals of the times past. There is no doubt in Ed Johnsons innocence now. First of all, he had an alibi, which could be easily checked. Moreover, he was accused of rape basing only on Taylors words. It seems rather strange now, taking into account the fact that it was dark and the witness fainted as a result of criminal actions. However, even taking into account these strange and contradictory facts, the suspect had chance to survive.

Though, an egregious cases of racism and violation of human rights took place. Being sure of Ed Johnson’s guilt because of his ethnicity, a group of people lynched him. However, even at that time, it was not a usual accident in St. Elmo, that is why there were a great number of talks around this case. Officials did not do something to punish those people, which were real murders. Moreover, on Johnsons funeral, the issue of his fault and death was ignored, and no one was allowed to speak on this topic (Funeral of Johnson, 1906). That is why it becomes clear that society approved actions of this type under the guise of religion and devoutness.

Having analyzed this case, it is possible to make some conclusions. First of all, it should be said that it is obvious that Ed Johnson was absolutely innocent. There were no direct proofs of his guilt, and society just followed their racial prejudices. With this in mind, it is possible to call the practice of lynching very preconceived and unfair.

The case of Ed Johnson is just one accident in a row, though it could be suggested that there were a great number of another accidents of this sort when innocent people suffered from a mobs anger and blindness. Lynching in America can be taken as a bloody and unfair episode of its history, which ended with the approach of the era of tolerance and humanism.

Reference List

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Green, A. (2000). 1906 Tennessee Conviction Overturned. AP News . Web.

Perloff, M. (2000). The Press and Lynchings of African Americans. Journal of Black Studies, 30(3), 315-330. doi: 10.1177/002193470003000303

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