111 Years After Ed Johnson's Lynching, a Permanent Memorial Planned

Mar 22, 2017

LaFrederick Thirkill places a wreath on the Walnut St Bridge in Chattanooga.

At Chattanooga’s Walnut Street Bridge, a new memorial could ensure an old injustice is never forgotten.

The bright blue bridge is usually a place for recreation, with men and women jogging, couples holding hands, and a scenic view beyond the handrails. Tourism officials tout the landmark as the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. It may be the Chattanooga's most iconic landmark, second only to the Choo Choo.

It can also be a somber place.

A crowd gathered for a ceremony where a bright green wreath was placed on the wooden walkway in memory of lynching victim Ed Johnson.

"There are many people who still aren't aware of the story," LaFrederick Thirkill said at the ceremony.

A mob lynched Johnson on the bridge 111 years ago.

Some people still can't bear to walk on the bridge, Thirkill said, "because of this history and the fact that there hasn't been anything done to to honor the life of Ed Johnson."

The Ed Johnson Memorial Project is raising funds to construct a permanent memorial near the Walnut Street Bridge, award scholarships, and help filmmaker Linda Duvoisin complete a documentary.

From the memorial project's Web site:

On March 19, 1906, a 24-year-old black man named Ed Johnson was murdered by a lynch mob in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as he awaited execution for a crime he did not commit. His murder occurred on the Walnut Street Bridge, an iconic walking bridge over the Tennessee River in the heart of downtown, and his last words were "God bless you all, I am an innocent man." Almost 100 years after his murder, Ed Johnson was cleared of the crime by Judge Douglas A. Meyers. In 2016 a group of citizens, focused on racial reconciliation and the promotion of diversity and inclusion in Chattanooga, gathered to create a memorial to Ed Johnson. The goal of the memorial is to formally recognize this tragic yet important part of Chattanooga's collective history. Through the creation of an Ed Johnson memorial, Chattanooga commits to never forget our racial past -- no matter how horrendous -- while we build a brighter, more inclusive future for our city.