Citizens will honor the memory of Ed Johnson during a ceremony at the Walnut Street Bridge Sunday, the 111th anniversary of his death by lynching.

The ceremony is presented by the Ed Johnson Project, which seeks to “promote racial healing and reconciliation in Chattanooga by creating a permanent memorial.”

Members of the project will offer remarks and readings about Johnson’s life and story. They will also place a wreath near the site of the lynching.

The commemoration begins at 2 p.m. at the south end of the bridge. Click here for more information.

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“From the beginning of this effort, we have wanted it to be a community project with as much community input as possible,” MariAnn Martin, a project leader, said. “We want the project to lead to greater racial reconciliation and healing, to bring together the Chattanooga community to learn from our past and build a better city together.”

On March 19, 1906, 24-year-old Johnson was murdered by a lynch mob of 1,500 people in Chattanooga. Johnson had been sentenced to death for the rape of Nevada Taylor and had been issued a stay of execution when the mob broke into the jail.

The Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga. (Photo: Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Hamilton County Sheriff Joseph Shipp, six of his deputies and 19 individuals were linked to the mob and officially charged with contempt of court.

Johnson’s last words were “God bless you all; I am a innocent man,” which is the phrase etched on his tombstone at Pleasant Gardens Cemetery.

Almost 100 years after his murder, Judge Douglas A. Meyers cleared Johnson of the crime.

Prior to Johnson’s death, more than 2,000 men-mostly black-were lynched in America, although no one was prosecuted or investigated for the crimes.

Click here for a more in-depth history of the Ed Johnson story.

Martin said the group is working with Public Art Chattanooga, and they will begin taking submissions from design teams in the next few weeks to offer input on the project.

A selection committee of community stakeholders will lead the process to select several teams as finalists and then select a final design, she said.

The prospective site is in an area on the east side of the bridge, currently covered in trees and bushes.

The group has also extended their fundraising goal for the commemorative site.

“It has been wonderful to see the broad community support already,” Martin said. “So many people reach out to us on a daily basis asking how they can help support the project and spread word throughout the community.”

The project is also raising funding to complete a documentary called “‘I Am a Innocent Man’: The Ed Johnson Story” for use as an educational tool.

Martin said the group will be looking for people to help organize hosting events that will bring people together to see the documentary.

More information about the Ed Johnson Project can be found here.

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