Why The Ed Johnson Memorial Matters To Me, A Libertarian

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I have seen a lot of responses to the question of whether or not our city and county should financially support the Ed Johnson Memorial at the Walnut Street bridge. Some fully support government pitching in and some say that private individuals and civic organizations should pitch in. Both are correct. 

Our city has become a very sought after place to live. From our hometown feel, to the emerging tech sector and revitalized manufacturing base. In our city we also have a blend of conservative and progressive ideologies that seem to coexist quite well. This issue is something that should speak to both sets of beliefs. 

The Ed Johnson case not only had an effect on the people Chattanooga at the time but absolutely changed the role of the federal courts for all Americans.  Unfortunately many of us have been ignorant for too long as to the details of the case. 

In this country the ultimate protector of our rights is the Constitution. This document affirms that the individual is of the utmost importance, and neither local, state, nor federal governments are superior to the individuals right to life or liberty.  In this case Ed Johnson was accused of a crime that he didn’t commit; was tried by a hostile jury that was not made up of his peers, and was denied due process by a corrupt judge and sheriff seeking re-election. For the first time in its history the supreme court stepped in after he was sentenced to death and ordered the sheriff to protect mister Johnson so that he could be given a fair trial.  Unfortunately Sheriff Shipp, whose constitutional duty was to protect the rights of Ed Johnson, conspired with the judge to allow a lynch mob to hang Mr. Johnson. 

The Ed Johnson project merits support from all sides. The support from organizations like Black Lives Matter seems obvious. The NAACP is also a no brainer. The state and local bar associations have cause to celebrate the brilliant attorneys who have the distinction of being one of the first African- American attorneys to serve as lead counsel in a case before the United States Supreme Court, and in so doing putting their own lives on the line to protect their clients rights. The City and County as well should support this because sunlight is the best disinfectant. Our locals communities of faith can get behind men from this story like T.H. McCallie (recognize that name?) and many others who showed that the will and the bravery of good men who are willing to stand in the gap at risk to themselves can be more powerful than the hatred of a mob. 

Finally to my fellow libertarians and conservatives, if we say that we believe in the rights and protections that are provided in our founding documents to the individual, how can we keep silent. If we believe that the government serves to protect our rights how can we turn a blind eye to the injustices of the past that have been committed by that government. How can we not seek to show as an example the first time our federal government attempted to act as it should and protect the rights of the individual, and hold accountable elected officials who sought to set themselves above the law. 

It is not my intent to paint this case in a positive light. A decent man lost his life because of a corrupt sheriff and judge, and an ideology that saw him as less than his fellow citizens. But what can be brought from the acknowledgement of this part of our history is an understanding of where we have come from, how far we have progressed and how much farther we can go. All we have to do is see the issues that we can all agree on. That all men are created equal. That we all have a right to life and liberty. That we all have rights that should be defended even if we don’t see eye to eye about our points of view. That the courage to stand for what is right in the face of opposition no matter how vocal, or strong should be celebrated. And maybe, just maybe, if we listen to each other and find the common values that we all believe in, we can make our country, our state, our city and our neighborhoods, places that we can be proud of.

Scott Schrader

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