Posted on 04/19/2013

Photo taken on January  1, 1904

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Noah W Parden
First attorney to argue and win a stay of execution from the
Ed Johnson Case
Johnson rec'd justice southern style
Lynched by folks who no doubt called themselves 'Patrio
Styles Linton Hutchins
Walnut Street Bridge .. scene of southern justice by good ol

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First African American Lawyer to Argue and Win a Stay of Execution from the Supreme Court

First African American Lawyer to Argue and Win a Stay of Execution from the Supreme Court
Ed Johnson was arrested in Chattanooga in 1906 for the night time robbery and assault of a 19-year-old woman. During the trial the victim testified that she “believed” he was the man who attacked her. She was so uncertain that one of the jurors cried out “as God sees you, can you say that he is the right Negro?”

Based more on the testimony of another man who said he had seen Johnson around the location shortly before the attack, the jury convicted Johnson, ignoring testimony of eight people that they had seen Johnson at a local bar all evening.

Sentenced to die by hanging, Johnson’s case was appealed to the federal courts by local African American attorneys. On March 19, 1906, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his case. As word of the court’s decision got out, groups of men began gathering and talking about taking the law in their own hands.

Noah Walter Parden was born in Floyd County, Georgia in 1865. By age 7, both his parents were dead and he was found abandoned on the doorstep of a Georgia orphanage. Parden came to Chattanooga in 1884 and entered Howard High School in 1885. As a teenager and young adult, he worked days in a tobacco field and nights in a factory to save money for law school. He graduated from Howard High School after five years of hard work, and in late 1890, he entered Central Tennessee College of Nashville's law department.

Parden graduated law school at the head of his class and then returned to Chattanooga to set up practice. He was admitted to practice law in all courts in Tennessee, and the state supreme court in 1894. He was admitted to practice in the United States Supreme Court in 1895.

Chattanooga's legal and civilian community referred to Parden as a "trouble maker and community agitator," because he fought vigorously for his clients. For all his devotion to his clients, he often received only a home cooked meal for payment.

Parden would go on to represent Ed Johnson, a young African American male accused of raping a white woman in 1906. When Johnson was convicted of the crime and sentenced to die, Parden became part of a team of lawyers (along with another African American attorney Styles Linton Hutchins), who filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court for a stay of execution until the facts could be investigated. Parden himself argued for the stay of execution. This act in itself was an historic event, because before that time no other African American had ever been allowed to argue anything before the Supreme Court justices.

Parden's argument was most effective, and Justice Harlan agreed to the stay. He even designated Parden lead counsel, another historic event. When citizens of Chattanooga heard about the stay, a mob formed and took the law into their own hands. They lynched Ed Johnson on the Walnut Street Bridge before Parden could argue the case.

Neither Noah Parden nor Styles Linton Hutchins ever returned to Chattanooga, Tennesse after the lynching. Parden had been in Washington, D.C., arguing the case, and Hutchins had been out of the city when the lynching occurred. Both attorneys received word of the lynching, and were told of the violent rumors circulating that they themselves would be lynched the moment they showed their faces in the city. Both Parden and Hutchins moved their families to Oklahoma.

Despite the outcome of the Ed Johnson case Parden's law career was outstanding.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a historical marker in the city of Chattanooga that honors the life, contributions and memory of attorney Noah Walter Parden.

Bio: 'African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes' by Rita L. Hubbard
Image: Chattanooga-Hamilton Bicentennial Library