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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Beware the Lynch Mob

Author Mark Curriden is both a journalist and a lawyer
Different people will take different things from last night's Lafayette College lecture about a turn-of-the-century lynching, which led to the first and only time that the United States Supreme Court has ever conducted a criminal trial. For the mostly black crowd in attendance, I'm sure that injustices to minorities were uppermost in their minds. But to me, Mark Curriden's lecture is a warning about the danger of mob rule, and the complicity of local government in facilitating this perversion of American government.

It's an interesting, if sad, story. A beautiful, 21 year-old woman was raped on her way home from work in Chattanooga in 1906. A Sheriff and Judge facing re-election needed to solve the case, and quickly. In 17 days, what the local press called a "Negro fiend" named Ed Johnson was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. A juror got up during the trial and said he wanted to kill Johnson himself.

What evidence exists showed that Johnson was innocent. He worked two jobs, and at the time of the rape, was working at a job several miles away from the scene of the rape. The victim could not even be sure her assailant was black.

While Johnson waited to hang, something very odd happened. For the first time ever, a black attorney was permitted to present an argument to the Supreme Court. And for the first time ever, the Supreme Court flexed its muscle over state criminal prosecutions, ruling that a defendant has federal constitutional rights in a state criminal prosecution. The Court directed the local Sheriff to keep Johnson safe, but he essentially thumbed his nose at the High Court, and allowed a lynch mob to drag Johnson away and hang him.

Johnson's last words to the mob? "God bless you all. I am an innocent man." They strung him up on a bridge, but he was taking too long to die. So they pumped him full of bullets.

As you might imagine, the United States Supreme Court was less than pleased that its orders had been violated. They had the Sheriff and lynch mob leaders charged with contempt of court, but their lawyers scoffed that the federal court had no jurisdiction.

States' rights and all that.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., had a different view, and his is the one that counted. "This was murder by a mob, and was an offense against the State as well as the United States and this court ... and the United States has complete power to punish, whether the State does or does not."

The Sheriff and lynch mob members were convicted of contempt, did their time and returned home to a heroes' welcome.

Unfortunately, local government too often cowers before a lynch mob, whether it is a Chattanooga mob with guns or a fake preacher who wants to hang the County Executive, despite repeated court rulings against him.


Anonymous said...

The one thing all these teabaggers and other assorted nuts forget is the Supremecy Clsuse in the Constitution. Trips them up every time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I don't care for the use of the term "teabagger" which is unnecessarily divisive. But the Supreme Court derives its power from and is established by the Constitution. Other courts derive their authority from Congress.

The Supreme Court that existed at the time that Johnson was lynched included towering intellectual luminaries like Holmes and John Marshall Harlan, two of the Court's best thinkers.

Harlan was a tobacco chewing justice who took an afternoon walk every day. He'd always stop to buy apples for himself and whomever else was around.

Anonymous said...

"God bless you all."

I wonder how many people in the face of adversity would respond in such a way? Even more so, how many professed Christians would respond in such a way?

Obviously not the Rev. and his sidekick Father (for now).

Anonymous said...

Ds fought to keep blacks enslaved, and completed the task with handout legislation. Blacks are more enslaved now than ever. Their family structure survived slavery, but was laid flat by LBJ.

Anonymous said...

Need to use that remove red eye feature of your Photo Shop, Bernie.

kareemofbuckwheat said...

obvious suicide

Anonymous said...

For the elucidation of your blog commenters, definition of "teabagger" from the web based Urban Dictionary:

1. teabagger

multiple meanings. 1) one who carries large bags of packaged tea for shipment. 2) a man that squats on top of a womens face and lowers his genitals into her mouth during sex, known as "teabagging" 3) one who has a job or talent that is low in social status 4) a person who is unaware that they have said or done something foolish, childlike, noobish, lame, or inconvenient. 5) also see "fagbag", "lamer", "noob"

2. teabagger

A whining fool shouting loudly for liberty but not willing to pay the bill.

3. Teabagger

One who slaps another person in the face with their nad sack.

4. teabagger

A misinformed, right-wing corporate media consumer who often fails to understand that BOTH major parties represent a corrupt plutocracy that steals from the middle class by taxing labor and profiting from corporate tax subsidies.

A teabagger also often fails to acknowledge that George W. Bush and his neo-conservative minions perpetrated one of the boldest and most egregious executive power grabs in the history of the United States. Furthermore, teabaggers mistakenly continue to blame a newly elected President Obama for all that ails the United States of America, based on a grossly flawed perception of reality (including latent racial prejudice) and despite the fact the U.S. economy collapsed on the previous administration's watch.

Teabaggers are also known to base their misguided, right-wing-media-inspired beliefs about President Obama on stupid conspiracy theories about totalitarian takeovers, FEMA camps, etc., despite the fact these very same theories have been circulating around on the Internet for years, and were originally ascribed to neo-conservative cabalists at a time when Barack Obama had not even entered national politics. Teabaggers also are known to be particularly paranoid, xenophobic and intolerant, especially with regard to immigrants and anyone who isn't white.

5. Teabagger

1. n. A man that dips his scrotum and testicles into the mouth of another person. (as if dipping a tea bag into hot water)

2. n. A conservative activist who is so ignorant that they protest against tax cuts (that benefit them) by throwing tea into a river.

Earl squatted down and teabagged Betty Lou by dipping his nutsack into her open mouth.

6. teabagger

A conservative republican who protests against income taxes by rubbing their nutsacks in each other's faces.

7. teabagger

1. A fascist right-wing conservative who opposes affordable healthcare by shouting at public gatherings.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Like I said, unnecessarily divisive.

Anonymous said...

9:30 AM

Go fuck yourself.

Thank you.


Norco Twink said...

That extensive description of Teabagging and its many incarnations left me rock hard, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Fleabagger (n) a liberal who covets constantly, refuses to work, and obsesses on intellectually superior conservative/libertarians using potty language associated with a favorite homosexual activity. Syn asshole, lazy, bottom, nihilist.

Norco Twink said...

12:26, this describes one of my boyfriends at the moment perfectly.

Anonymous said...

11:40, your words not mine. Enjoy your term amd life.