Ed Johnson was lynched from the Walnut Street Bridge just before midnight on March 19, 1906.
The angry crowd of armed men had worked for hours to break down the door of the jail, hammering away at the five rivets that held the steel-barred door in place. As they worked, the mob outside the jail grew. No one in power tried to stop them. If someone protested, their voices went unheeded.
Johnson, wrongfully accused and convicted at just 24 years old, sat inside his jail cell as the hours ticked away. He could hear the pounding of the hammer and the shouts from crowd outside.
“Johnson sat on his bunk without moving a muscle. He prayed and prayed again, realizing the end was near. He no longer sought God’s deliverance from the angry mob, but now asked for courage and strength. He just wanted the affair to be over as quickly as possible. He wished he could see his dad and mom and sister just one more time, and worried the mob would go after his family next,” wrote Leroy Phillips and Mark Curriden in Contempt of Court.
The last rivet gave away at close to 11 pm. The mob leaders hauled Johnson out of the Hamilton County jail and marched him out into the darkness of night. He walked the six blocks up to the bridge, surrounded by more than 1,500 people who vowed to see him dead. An innocent man. A dark night.
One hundred-eleven years later, a crowd gathered at the Walnut Street Bridge on a sunny afternoon. March 19, 2017. About 300 people. Bright sunlight against the blue bridge.
We had come to say we were sorry for the wrong done to Ed Johnson. We wanted to bring the community together in reconciliation and to work together towards unity.
“We come together because the time is right now,” Eleanor Cooper told the crowd. “It is right for our community, and it is right for our nation. And the thing that we are bringing to this is reconciliation, healing and bringing together the races in a harmonious way. But we do it by remembering, by remembering what was done that was wrong. And remembering we can do that again, if we don’t remember. There’s a veil of silence that settles over our memories, and we need to remove so that we can be fully together.”
It seemed like such a small gesture. Too little and too late for Ed Johnson. But it is what we can do 111 years later.
We can remember a life that was taken unjustly. We can honor the man who said, “God bless you all. I am a innocent man.” We can vow to bring his death out of the darkness of night and into light of day.