Styles L. Hutchins, noted African American attorney in turn-of-the-century Chattanooga, was born November 21, 1852, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He attended Atlanta University and after completing his studies, taught in local schools until 1871. In that year he became principal of Knox Institute in Athens, Georgia. In 1873 Hutchins left his position and moved to South Carolina, where he graduated from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1876. Admitted to the South Carolina bar at the end of the Reconstruction era, Hutchins first served as a Republican state judge, but the restoration of Democratic power led to his resignation.
Hutchins returned to Georgia, fought for admission to the state bar in Atlanta, and after a six-month struggle he became the first African American attorney admitted to the Georgia bar. In 1881 Hutchins moved to Chattanooga and opened a law office. He also partnered with other local African Americans to establish a newspaper, The Independent Age, which Hutchins edited. In 1886 Hutchins was elected to a single term to the Tennessee General Assembly as a Republican. He was the second Chattanooga black to serve in the legislature; the first was William C. Hodge. Hutchins also once held a patronage position in the revenue department of the U.S. Treasury and was ordained a minister of the United Brethren in Christ in 1901.
Hutchins's most important legal case in Chattanooga involved a lynching. In 1906 Ed Johnson was accused and quickly convicted of raping a white woman. While his habeas corpus petition, prepared by Hutchins and fellow black attorney Noah W. Parden, was before the U.S. Supreme Court, a Chattanooga mob lynched Johnson, in what proved to be the last lynching in the city's history. At the urgings of Hutchins and others, federal officials cited the Hamilton County sheriff and other officials for contempt of court for not preventing the lynching. In United States v. Shipp (1909), the U.S. Supreme Court found the Hamilton County sheriff and the others guilty. Hutchins's and Parden's success at the federal level, however, quickly destroyed their Chattanooga careers. Threats and intimidation came from many quarters and both attorneys left for Oklahoma. In honor of Hutchins's accomplishments and courage, the S. L. Hutchins Bar Association has been established in Chattanooga.
Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips Jr., Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism (1999); Michael D. Webb, “God Bless You All–I Am Innocent: Sheriff Joseph F. Shipp, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the Lynching of Ed Johnson,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 58 (Summer 1999): 156-79