Agriculture, Free People of Color, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin, Politics, Rights, Vocation

I worked for it.

TESTIMONY OF NAPOLEON HIGGINS.

NAPOLEON HIGGINS, colored, sworn and examined.

By Senator VANCE:

Question. Where do you reside?  Answer. Near Goldsborough. I don’t stay in Goldsborough, but it is my county seat. I live fifteen miles from town.

Q. What is your occupation?  A. I am farming.

Q. Do you farm your own land?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. How much do you own?  A. Four hundred and eighty-five acres.

Q. How did you get it?  A. I worked for it.

Q. Were you formerly a slave?  A. No, sir; I was a free man before the war.

Q. You say you worked for it?  A. Yes, sir; I worked for it, and got it since the war.

Q. What is it worth per acre?  A. I don’t know, sir, what it is worth now. I know what I paid for it.

Q. What did you pay for it?  A. I believe I paid $5,500, and then I have got a little town lot there that I don’t count, but I think it is worth about $500.

Q. Then you have made all that since the war?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. How much cotton do you raise?  A. I don’t raise as much as I ought to. I only raised fifty-eight bales last year.

Q. What is that worth?  A. I think I got $55 a bale.

Q. How many hands do you work yourself?  A. I generally rent my land. I only worked four last year, and paid the best hand, who fed the mules and tended around the house, ten dollars; and the others I paid ten, and eight and seven.

Q. That was last year?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. What did you give them besides their pay?  A. I gave them rations; and to a man with a family I gave a garden patch and a house, and a place to raise potatoes.

Q. What about the rate of wages in your section of the country; does that represent them?  A. Yes, sir; of course a no account hand don’t get much, and a smart one gets good wages.

Q. Have you made any contracts for this year?  A. Yes, sir; but I am only hiring two hands this year.

Q. What do your tenants pay you for the use of your land?  A. Some of the tenants give me a third of the corn and a third of the cotton. Then I have got some more land that I rent out to white men, and they give me a fourth of the cotton, and another gives me a thousand pounds of lint cotton for twenty acres.

Q. Does anybody interfere with your right to vote down there?  A. No, sir.

Q. Or with any of the rights of your race?  A. No, sir; we vote freely down there. Of course, if one man can persuade you to vote with him, that is all right. But you can vote as you please.

Q. What are your politics? A. I am a republican, and that is the way my township generally votes.

Q. You say there is no interference with the rights of your race there?  A. Not that I know of.

Q. There has been something said here about the landlord and tenant act. Do you think that does anybody any harm? A. I think it is a good law.

Q. The object of it is to give you a lien on everything your tenant has until your rent is paid?  A. Yes, sir; and I think I am entitled to that.

Q. These white tenants can’t run off any of your cotton until you are paid?  A. No, sir; I am five or six miles from them, and they can’t run it off. They might do it and I not see them if I did not have the law to back me; and they are just as apt to run it off as not when they start.

Q. Then you think it is a good protection to you in your rights?  A. Yes, sir; I do.

Q. Do you have any schools down there?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. How is the money raised for them? Most of it is by a property tax, is it not?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. And the poll tax all goes to education except twenty-five cents on the dollar?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Do you know how much land your race has acquired in that county?  A. I reckon they have got fifteen hundred acres in our township; but I could not tell how much in the county.

Q. Is there any distinction made between the whites and the blacks down there in the renting of lands?  A. None that I know of.

Q. Both are paid the same wages?  A. Yes, sir; unless a man wants to hire some man to lock his doors and look after and keep his keys; then they pay him more. And if it is a colored man that he has confidence in, they pay him the same.

Q. Is there any distinction there to take all white men as tenants?  A. No, sir; in our township they take them without regard to color. If a man is a smart man, he gets in just the same as a white man. Colored men rent from white men, and white men from colored men.

Q. Did you ever have any talk with any of those people who went to Indiana?  A. No, sir; I never saw one who went.

Q. Did you ever hear any of the speeches of any of these men who were stirring up these men?  A. No, sir.

Q. Did you see any of their circulars?  A. No, sir.

Q. Nor hear of any inducements offered to them? A. No, sir.

Q. Did you get any letters from any of them who went out there?  A. No, sir; I wasn’t acquainted with any who went. I learned more of it at Goldsborough last Monday night, when I was coming on here, than I ever knew before.

Q. Are there any complaints among your people to discriminations in the courts, between the whites and blacks?  A. Yes, sir; I have heard them say that the same evidence that will convict a colored man for stealing won’t convict a white man.

Q. When they are convicted, are they punished alike? Yes, sir; in the same cases. I have spoke to them and told them, lots of times, that of course they would be convicted many times where a white man would get out, and the only way to avoid that was to quit stealing. I told them, a white man has got more sense and more money to pay lawyers and knows better how to hid his rascality, and the best way for the colored man to keep out of the penitentiary was to quit stealing.

By Senator WINDOM:

Q. Is it the general impression among colored people down there that they don’t get justice?  A. Yes, sir; when two or three colored men get convicted they think so. But there are more black men convicted because there are more of them tried.

Q. You say they have not got sense enough to get out of it when they get in; they have attorneys, do they not? A. Yes, sir; but very often they have not got the money to feed up an attorney; and, you know, they more you pay a lawyer the more he sticks with you.

Q. Is there not discrimination there in the employment of mechanics? A. No, sir; I never heard of it.

By Senator VOORHEES:

Q. Do you know of any of these people, white and black, who have been convicted that you thought were convicted wrongfully?  A. No, sir.

Q. You thought they were rightfully convicted?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. You have been on juries yourself; did you ever make any difference between them?  A. No, sir; I have sat on juries there many times, and sat on a case of a white man who was tried for his life.

Q. Was there any other colored man on that jury? A. No, sir; I was the only one on that one; but I have been on others.

Q. You have sat on juries when white men’s cases were being tried, both on the criminal and on the civil sides of the court?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did any white man object to you sitting on them?  A. No, sir.

Q.Then most of this talk about discrimination and injustice is by men who have been disappointed in the results of their suits?  A. Yes, sir.

Q. You see no cause for it yourself?  A. No, sir.

Q. You have heard white men complain just as bitterly?  A. Yes, sir; of course. I suppose they are like I am.  I always try to beat the case.

By Senator WINDOM:

Q. You say you think this land and tenant act a good thing; do you think the renter is in favor of it?  A. I don’t know; they never say anything to me about it. I am on the other side of that question.

Q. Does not the fact that you own 285 [sic] acres of land give you a little better standing in the community than most of your colored friends?  A. Of course; I suppose it does.

Q. How did you start it?  A. I rented a farm and started on two government horses. I went to the tightest man I know and got him to help me. I rented from Mr. Exum out there.

Q. Are there others who have succeeded as well as you?  A. Yes, sir; there are. One or two men who have succeeded better than me. There are several of them in good circumstances there in our township. I think, altogether, they own 1,500 acres there.

Q. How many colored people own this?  A. I reckon 150.

Q. The 1,500 acres is divided up among 150 people?  A. No, sir; a good many of them have got none.

Q. This is what I asked you: How many own this 1,500 acres, all put together?  A. I reckon a dozen. It might not be more than eight. It is from eight to a dozen, anyhow. But there are a number who own some little lots of land of four or five acres that I have not mentioned.

This, of course, was Napoleon Hagans (not Higgins)’ testimony before a Senate Select Committee investigating the migration of hundreds of African-Americans from the South to Kansas Indiana in the late 1870s, allegedly because of “denial or abridgment of their personal and political rights and privileges.”  Hagans’ testimony about the source of his relative wealth, as well his opinions about the political and judicial climate for colored men in his part of North Carolina, were well-received by the committee, which concluded that all was well in Dixie. Nonetheless, it is perhaps possible — if one suppresses natural feeling and attempts to stand in Napoleon’s shoes — to detect a very subtle undercurrent of resistance here and there in the essential conservatism of his words.

Transcript in Senate Report 693, 2nd Session, 46th Congress: Proceedings of the Select Committee of the United States Senate to Investigate the Causes of the Removal of the Negroes from the Southern States to the Northern States, Washington DC, beginning Tuesday, 9 March 1880.

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10 thoughts on “I worked for it.

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