The Anti-Lynching Legacy of Rev. T.H. McCallie
Eleanor McCallie Cooper
Students visit the Ed Johnson Memorial in downtown Chattanooga

 

By Eleanor McCallie Cooper
 

On Sept. 19, 2021, a memorial was dedicated beside the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga to honor the lives of three African American men: Ed Johnson who was lynched on the bridge in 1906 and the two attorneys, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins, who defended Mr. Johnson and took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dr. Eleanor McCallie Cooper (GPS class of 1964) and her husband Mel Cooper (Director of Development and VP for Advancement, 1975-2007) were members of the Ed Johnson Committee that carried the project to fruition. Also on the committee were Kathy McCallie Gardner, daughter of Sara and former Head of School Spencer McCallie III ’55, and Sara McCallie, and her husband, Ellis Gardner ’79. 

We asked Dr. Cooper to share the history of the Rev. T.H. McCallie, her great-grandfather, and the school that bears his name as it relates to the tragic story of the 1906 lynching of Ed Johnson. 

Rev T.H. McCallie

Even before the horrible lynching in 1906, The Rev. Thomas H. McCallie (1837–1912), who, in 1905 donated land on Missionary Ridge along with his home there and other buildings, so two of his sons, Spencer McCallie and J. Park McCallie, could open McCallie School, was an outspoken opponent of lynching.

In 1893, the Rev. McCallie, already retired from the ministry and living on his farm on Missionary Ridge, read in the newspaper that a Black man named Alfred Blount had been hung on the Walnut Street Bridge. It made him sick. That next Sunday, February 20, 1893, he was the guest preacher at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. The house was packed. His sermon was entitled “The Mob and Mob Law.” 

Using Romans 13: 1-4 as his text, he condemned lynching in no uncertain terms, stating these reasons:

First, it is murder.
It is lawlessness.
It is contagious.
It utterly fails in its effect.
It is cowardly.
It arouses bitter race antagonisms.
It brings the city into discredit.
It is in danger of striking down the innocent.

The Rev. McCallie, age 56 at that time, already looked like the old man we know from the portrait of him that hangs in the Dining Hall – bald, deep-set eyes, with a white-gray beard and mustache. In the sermon, he expressed a sense of shame for the city of his childhood, no doubt recalling his early adult years when the Civil War broke out, and he and his new bride decided to stay in the city, rather than retreat as many citizens had, and to serve in whatever capacity they were needed. Their house became a hospital and hospice to both armies, and for that lack of partisanship, he was later accused of treason by the Confederate officials and sentenced to be removed North. Fortunately, the war ended before that sentence was carried out, and he never had to leave Chattanooga. 

He ended his sermon that day in 1893 by calling on the other ministers in town and members of the press to tell the truth about these outrages. He exhorted: “I trust we shall never have another such crime in Chattanooga.” 

At another time, when a lynch mob was gathering, the Rev. McCallie reportedly stopped the lynching from taking place. It is said that he stood before the crowd of angry men, recognizing some of them, and implored in the language of the pulpit – a language he knew they knew – to go home, fall on their knees and ask forgiveness for the evil in their hearts.

Forced by health reasons to retire early from his ministry at First Presbyterian Church, he and pastor Jonathan Waverly Bachman organized a white ministers’ association to oppose racial hatred and violence at a time when racial animosity was at a peak near the turn of the century.

It was this association of pastors that he called on in 1906 when Ed Johnson, a young black man was accused, with virtually no evidence, of raping a white woman and a group of white racists indicated they planned to lynch him. The Rev. McCallie encouraged his colleagues in the ministers’ association to speak against the lynching from their pulpits. But, alas, a mob formed and took Ed Johnson from the jail and hauled him to the bridge, hanging and shooting him multiple times, even after his last words proclaimed: “God Bless you all. I am an innocent man.”

“I want you to think about that the next time you walk down the quadrangle past where the original Founders Home stood. Think about that young wife and two young children finding refuge – sanctuary – on McCallie’s campus, protected by strangers who were willing to take a risk and do what was right – to do what was honorable.  . . .”  —From a talk about the lynching of Ed Johnson delivered at Upper School Chapel by Head of School Lee Burns ’87 on Sept. 17, 2021

 

An Incident that Involved the School

Prior to the lynching, two Black attorneys, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins risked their lives and careers and appealed Ed Johnson’s conviction to the Supreme Court. When Mr. Parden was preparing to go to Washington, the Rev. McCallie went to see him at his office. 

Mr. Parden was worried about the safety of his wife, Maddie. Their house had been hit by arsonists already and she was awakened in the night by gunshots. The Rev. McCallie offered to harbor Mrs. Parden and her children while Mr. Parden was away. 

This offer was extended in March of 1906, the first year of the McCallie School’s existence. Some boys boarded in the Founder’s Home, which was located on the site of the present Founder’s Home. 

The book Contempt of Court by Leroy Phillips and Mark Curriden, reports that the Pardens agreed to this plan and accepted his offer. Did the Rev. McCallie keep Mrs. Parden in his home on the campus?  We don’t know how the offer was carried out, but it was an incredibly bold action in a time when giving shelter to a Black family, would have put the Reverend, his house and family, as well as the school, in jeopardy. They would have been in danger of being attacked by the same arsonists that had attacked the Parden’s house.

The Rev. Howard Jones of the First Baptist Church came under such an attack. He preached a sermon condemning the violence on the Sunday after Ed Johnson’s lynching. The sermon was reported across the country – “it went viral,” as we would say today. As a result, his house was burned and he was forced to leave town. 

Eventually, Noah Parden and Styles Hutchins were also forced to leave Chattanooga. Their case against the sheriff and leaders of the mob, however, made it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1909, and was successful in holding these men accountable for contempt of court for failing to protect Ed Johnson and prevent his lynching. 

The Rev. McCallie died a few years later in 1912 at age 75.


McCallies in Chattanooga Today

Chattanooga descendants of the Rev. T. H. McCallie continue to be active in their support of McCallie, as well as their leadership in civic and community organizations, such as the Ed Johnson Project, Chattanooga Connected (which brought citizens of different races together for conversation), and many other endeavors. Recently many of them gathered on the front porch of Founder’s Home.

They are (pictured below):
Spencer McCallie III ’55 
Sara McCallie
Kathy McCallie Gardner (GPS ’80)
Franklin McCallie ‘58
Teresa McCallie
Tom McCallie ‘60
Allen McCallie ‘73
Jack McCallie ‘75
Sumner McCallie
Alex McCallie ‘78
Eleanor McCallie Cooper 

Spencer McCallie ‘55, retired as headmaster of McCallie School in 1999, has served as president of the Rotary and chairman of the boards of the Community Foundation and Chattanooga Symphony and Opera. His brother Franklin ’58 moved back to Chattanooga after retiring as high school principal in St. Louis, and he and his wife Tresa hosted in their home a series of interracial “dessert conversations” called Chattanooga Connected. Tom McCallie ’60 has continued working with the Maclellan Foundation, only feigning retirement, but his work with the United Way and Bible in the Schools that Dr. Parke started are close to his heart.  He is known for his work in philanthropy in China and other countries. Jack McCallie ’75 is the doctor for McCallie School and served on the board of directors for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. His brother Allen ‘73 continues to work for Miller Martin law firm and has been recognized both locally and nationally for his work as an advocate of conservation. Allen and his cousin Eleanor were active in Chattanooga’s revitalization in the 1980s through their efforts at the Lyndhurst Foundation and Chattanooga Venture. Alex McCallie ’78, returned to the Ridge in 2019 to become Associate Director of College Counseling, and Sumner McCallie has been on McCallie’s faculty since 1996 and serves as Dean of Faculty and Curriculum. 


 

Members of the McCallie family outside Founders Home