The Tale of Ed Johnson

March 25, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Posted in Chattanooga, songs with words | Leave a comment

here’s an old story, one of the darkest chapters of our town’s history. as I looked into it here and elsewhere I came to realize that the original crime happened in our neighborhood, and I already knew the resulting crime happened where I spend many of my lunchtimes. there’s lots of fascinating and terrible stories surrounding this, and there’s a book about it too (that I’ll probably read soon). one glimmer is that Ed was eventually exonerated, but that was about 94 years too late.

here’s a draft mp3 of the tune (most of it borrowed from Willie Nelson) 

The Tale of Ed Johnson

on a cold winter’s eve in St. Elmo
the year was 1906
miss Nevada Taylor
attacked and waylaid
and dark was the criminal’s skin
and dark was the criminal’s skin
 
worst crime in all the towns hist’ry
Chattanooga was pulsing with rage
the hounds came up empty
so the sherriff’s deputy
found a black man of young age
found a black man of young age
 
Ed Johnson declared he’d done nothing
he’d been at the Last Chance Saloon
but downtown they took him
and justice forsook him
though he had done nothing wrong
though he had done nothing wrong
 
the lynch mob came with their fury
they stormed with rifles and rope
but the guard stood strong
and sent the crowd home
and Ed had a glimmer of hope
and Ed had a glimmer of hope
 
12 white jurors assembled
a trial was speedily done
Nevada wasnt quite certain
but her hand pointed to him
he was probly the one
he was probly the one
 
the appeal went to the courts highest
Judge Harlan granted a stay
but the lynch mob returned
to kill and to burn
and noone dared stand in their way
and noone dared stand in their way
 
for hours they hammered the jail doors
they mocked and they beat young Ed down
and down at the span
each woman and man
rejoiced as his feet left the ground
rejoiced as his feet left the ground
 
so here on the Walnut Street Bridge
remember poor Ed and lament
for the last thing they heard
were his final words:
“God bless you all, I am innocent”
God bless us, he was innocent

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