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Noah Parden

Noah Parden, one of Tennessee's first Black attorneys, bravely defended an unfairly convicted man, leading to a landmark Supreme Court precedent that expanded the constitutional rights of all Americans. Born in 1868, Parden overcame racial adversity and became a successful lawyer in Chattanooga. In 1906, Attorney Parden sacrificed his Chattanooga home, his law practice and his family’s safety to defend Ed Johnson, a young Black man convicted in a sham trial of raping a young White woman. He initially declined to represent Mr. Johnson, but he was moved by the plea of the young man’s father and threw himself into the defense wholeheartedly, appealing the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. When that failed, Attorney Parden and his co-counsel, pioneering Black attorney Styles Hutchins, then rushed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They obtained a last-minute stay of execution from Justice John Marshall Harlan. But before they could obtain a new hearing, a lynch mob, aided and abetted by the sheriff, dragged Mr. Johnson from the Hamilton County Jail and hanged him from Chattanooga’s Walnut Street Bridge. Despite his efforts, Johnson was lynched by a mob. Parden and his co-counsel faced persecution and fled to St. Louis, Missouri where he quickly became a prominent political leader with a successful law practice. He survived the infamous 1917 East St. Louis “race riot,” in which rampaging White mobs massacred hundreds of Black men, women and children. Attorney Parden continued to be a champion for justice until his death in 1944. His defense of Johnson led to an important Supreme Court ruling, recognizing the constitutional right to challenge unlawful imprisonment. Chattanooga commemorates Parden's courage with a sculpture near the Walnut Street Bridge.

Noah Parden
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