I’m very excited about my upcoming book Grievous Deeds: The Story of Four Years of Fury in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I want to share a little bit about the story as the release date gets closer.
Grievous Deeds was initially about one man only, Dave Edwards, and the crimes he committed. But as I learned more about him, I found he was closely connected to another case–the lynching of Ed Johnson in 1906. Ed’s case marks the beginning of Grievous Deeds and it contained the seeds for many things that happened afterwards.
Ed Johnson’s story has many twists and turns, but the beginning was straightforward enough. A young woman named Nevada Taylor worked as a stenographer in downtown Chattanooga. Every night after work, she took a streetcar to the Forest Hills Cemetery in St. Elmo, the southernmost neighborhood in the city. Nevada’s father was the caretaker of the cemetery and the family lived in a cottage on the grounds. After she stepped off the streetcar, Nevada began to walk the remaining short distance to her home, until she was grabbed by someone in the darkness who robbed and assaulted her.
Rape charges were taken extremely seriously at the turn of the century and they were a death penalty offense in the state of Tennessee. In 1910, for instance, records show two white men were legally hanged in the state for similar offenses. However, many of the cases did not go to trial. In the United States, you are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty but in especially brutal cases, lynch mobs, intent on murdering the accused were likely to form. The press typically played a role in inciting the violence, and often the government did nothing about it. Governor Cole Blease of South Carolina, for instance, famously advocated lynching, stating, “An aroused mob is an outraged community which carries out the law, but brushed aside the law’s technicalities and delays.” (Technicalities and delays like an accused person’s Constitutional rights.)
Today lynching is often associated with black male victims but lynching was not specific to one race, nor to males. According to Charles Seguin and David Rigby, who researched the topic extensively, the statistics from 1883 to 1941 are as follows:
- Number of lynching victims: 4,467
- Male victims: 4,027
- Female victims: 99
- Unknown, but presumed male: 341
- Black: 3,265
- White: 1,082
- Mexican: 71
- Native American: 38
- Chinese: 10
- Japanese: 1
Nevertheless, a white man accused of an attack on a white woman in 1906 was far more likely to be allowed to stand trial than a black man accused of the same crime.
When the crime was reported, Nevada told the sheriff she thought her assailant was a black man. The racial dynamic made the case even more incendiary. The assault took place in 1906, just over 40 years after the Civil War–well within the lifetime of many Chattanooga residents. The attack and inflammatory coverage in the newspapers shattered the uneasy peace that existed in the city. Immediately, the press began to talk of lynching and angry threats filled the streets.
A reward was offered for the identity of the man who perpetrated the brutal assault on Nevada. Within two days, a 24-year-old black man named Ed Johnson was named as a suspect. Johnson was not the only suspect nor was he a very likely person to have committed the crime. He worked several jobs to get by and lived with his mother and stepfather in a modest area of town. And he had a solid alibi: he had been at work on the night of the assault. Nevertheless, he was accused and eventually indicted for the crime.
Unlike so many similar situations, Ed Johnson did stand trial for the crime against Nevada Taylor. The court proceedings are among the most remarkable we have on record. Yet Ed’s story did not end in the Hamilton County Courthouse–far from it.
Would you like to win a signed copy of Grievous Deeds?
Black Rose Writing is generously sponsoring a series of giveaways leading up to the book’s release on March 30, 2023. Our current drawing is in progress until midnight November 24.
3 Easy Steps to Enter the Drawing:
- Click here to open the secure form.
- Answer the questions. They are opinion questions so there’s no “right way” to answer. The more you share, the better!
- Click the Submit button at the bottom of the page. Voilà: you’re officially entered!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Will my name and email address be visible to others? Will my information be sold? No. I’m the only person who can see your responses, and I’ll only use your email to notify you if you win the drawing.
What are the questions and why are you asking? The questions are about your reading preferences. This helps me get to know you better and understand what you like, and you have a chance to win a signed book!
Can I enter all five drawings? Yes!
I’m outside the United States. Can I still enter the drawing? I welcome you to answer the questions and share your opinions! I’d love to hear from you. Unfortunately, I can only ship books to the winners within the U.S.
How and when will I receive the book if I win? If you are the winner, I’ll notify you via email and request a U.S. mailing address to send the book. I’ll send out the winners’ copies in late March or early April.
Tremendous thanks to Black Rose Writing for their sponsorship!