Twelve University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students are working with the Ed Johnson Project to develop a serial podcast about the historic lynching of a local black man.
The podcast tells Ed Johnson’s story, interviews local leaders and explains why something that happened 115 years ago is still relevant today.
“I’m not from Chattanooga, but I was really shocked when after living here for one-and-a-half years that I never knew his story and that he was lynched on the Walnut Street Bridge,” said sophomore Shriya Purohit, podcast producer and host.
“The bridge is such an important part of Chattanooga, and the fact that it’s still not as known–I feel like it’s something that everyone needs to know.”
Titled “We Care Now: A Podcast for Ed Johnson,” the story is a dark and painful one, of a black man who on March 19, 1906, was mob-lynched from the second span of Chattanooga’s Walnut Street bridge while accused and still on trial for the rape of a white woman.
After a trial devoid of incriminating facts and with a clearly biased jury, Johnson was sentenced to death. When the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of his execution, a mob stormed the jail.
Johnson’s last words, spoken from the bridge before he was killed, were, “God bless you all, I am a innocent man.”
Johnson was the second man to be lynched on the bridge, after Alfred Blount was hung from the first span in 1893.
When it was first built, the Walnut Street Bridge was meant to connect two communities living on either side of the Tennessee River: the predominantly white city in the south, and the larger black workforce in the north.
The bridge is now a staple pedestrian walkway frequented by Chattanooga natives and visitors alike, many unaware of the history that happened there.
“From our initial inception, one of the primary objectives of the Ed Johnson Project has been to help foster reconciliation, remembrance and healing through the retelling of the case of Ed Johnson and the historic set of circumstances that makes this case unique in history,” noted Eric Atkins, vice chairman for the Ed Johnson Project, formed in 2016.
Despite the tough subject, the 12 students in Storytelling Through Podcasts–a semester-long course offered through UTC Honors–chose to tell Ed Johnson’s story.
Instructor Will Davis said the first week of classes began just after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Still fresh on the students’ minds, that historic moment took up a lot of their initial conversations.
“Our very first conversations centered around, ‘If you’re a storyteller, what civic responsibilities do you have?”‘ Davis explained.
That led them to decide to tackle a story with significance to the community. The result is a series of five, 10-minute episodes told in a true-crime fashion.
Students who produced “We Care Now” came from majors spanning UTC colleges.
Mazze Stokes, a sophomore studying interior architecture and design, worked on the podcast as a writer. She hopes the podcast encourages listeners to be more actively engaged in learning about their local history and proactive against social injustice.
“I hope it also brings attention to other racial injustices that have happened in history and pushes people to learn more and have more of a voice in that respect,” she added.
“Because they understand that it’s happened maybe more than they thought it did or more locally than they thought.”
Johnson’s murder led to the first and only criminal trial in the U.S. Supreme Court’s history. Sheriff Joseph Shipp, who had arrested Johnson, was found guilty.
You can listen to the UTC student-produced podcast on Apple Podcasts at utc.edu/we-care-now.
Or find it on Spotify at spoti.fi/32Nnwr1.