North Carolina, Politics, Rights

He will rise up some day and come again.

Today marks the 115th anniversary of George H. White’s Phoenix speech, delivered as the North Carolina representative bade farewell to Congress. The full text of the speech is available here, but here are his final ringing and prophetic words:

“This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, faithful, industrious, loyal people — rising people, full of potential force.

“Mr. Chairman, in the trial of Lord Bacon, when the court disturbed the counsel for the defendant, Sir Walter Raleigh raised himself up to his full height and, addressing the court, said:

“Sir, I am pleading for the life of a human being.

“The only apology that I have to make for the earnestness with which I have spoken is that I am pleading for the life, the liberty, the future happiness, and manhood suffrage for one-eighth of the entire population of the United States.”

My kinsmen Henry E. Hagans and William S. Hagans, brothers, served as secretaries to White during his terms in Washington.

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Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Politics

Pre-election street fracas?

A “pre-election fracas”? What happened? And why did eight of black Goldsboro’s leading lights — including my great-great-great-uncle Matthew W. Aldridge and cousin William S. Hagans — feel compelled to take to the newspaper, hat in hand?

Goldsboro_Daily_Argus_11_18_1896_letter_re_fracas_Hagans_Aldridge

Goldsboro Daily Argus, 18 November 1896.

I didn’t find anything in the Goldsboro papers to which I have access, but two weeks before this letter was published, newspapers across the country ran a sensational story about Negroes “taking control” of Goldsboro after a “clash with whites.” The alleged cause? “An incendiary speech” made by none other than John Frank Baker, “a colored Republican of Dudley,” and husband of Mary Ann Aldridge Baker.

Independence_KS_Daily_Reporter_11_4_1896_Frank_Baker_clash

Independence Daily Reporter (Kansas), 4 November 1896.

Four months later, Frank Baker was assassinated, shot dead as he went about his work in a Dudley grocery.

Were Matthew Aldridge and William Hagans and their peers moved to pour oil on the waters because they feared the fallout from Baker’s outspokenness? (I have yet to find anything that touches on what he actually said.) Their letter is frustratingly vague about the events that gave rise to a “race riot” in Goldsboro, speaking only of the aftermath of a recent election. The message is difficult to digest, greased as it is with deferential supplications to the “better class of our white citizens” and anxious apologies for the “slight ripple upon the formally [sic] smooth surface” of race relations in Wayne County. Reading from a 21st century vantage point, it is easy to dismiss this letter as Uncle Tommery. There is an undoubted and substantial element of self-preservation and middle-class conservatism at work here, but their fear was surely real and well-placed.

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  • Clarence Dillard (1862-1933), Howard University Theology ’83, came to Goldsboro as a Presbyterian minister and was principal of the colored graded school during this period. He was active in Republican politics and was co-editor of a short-lived African-American newspaper in Goldsboro, The Voice. Goldsboro’s first African-American high school was named for him.
  • A. Sasser was likely Arnold Sasser (1866-1939), who was listed as an undertaker in the 1900 census of Goldsboro.
  • A.M. Smith, I can’t identify.
  • William S. Hagans (1869-1947), son of a prominent farmer, moved between Goldsboro and Washington, where he would soon serve as secretary to African-American United States Congressman George H. White.
  • B.G. Hogans was likely Benjamin H. Hogans (1865-1926), a teacher, a trustee of Saint James AME Zion Church and, later, a mail carrier. He was born in Orange County, North Carolina, and came to Goldsboro as a child. [Hogans’ niece Annie Irene Hogans married Daniel Simmons, first cousin of my great-grandmother Bessie Henderson.]
  • Matthew W. Aldridge (1857-1920) was a grocer and erstwhile teacher who was active in city politics as alderman and poll-holder in the heyday of the Black Second era.
  • William E. Highsmith (1851-1930) was a farmer.
  • Henry Williams, like Hogans, was a pallbearer at the funeral of William Hagans’ father Napoleon Hagans, conducted in part by Clarence Dillard just ten weeks before this letter was published. Beyond that, I have not been able to identify Williams.

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Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Other Documents, Politics, Rights

So that we may know their strength.

In 1868, Francis E. Shober was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-first United States Congress from North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District. However, the election was contested by his Republican opponent, Nathaniel Boyden, who accused Democrats of placing ballot boxes at the polls that were not clearly marked; of intimidating and threatening Republican voters; and circulating a race-baiting forged document –  purporting to come from the chairman of the National Republican Executive Committee – designed to discourage freedmen from voting for Boyden: If we can elect Grant we will not need the negro vote again, and we can assure you our next Congress will inaugurate a system of colonization that will remove the negro from your midst. … By all means, get the negroes to register and enroll, so that we may know their strength.

House and Senate reports are the designated class of publications by which congressional committees formally report and make recommendations to the Senate or House concerning, among other things, their investigative or oversight activities.  These reports are publicly distributed as part of the official U.S. Serial Set record of each Congress. Documents related to Boyden v. Shober appear in the 41st Congressional Serial Set. Among several others, Ransom Miller gave testimony in the matter in Salisbury, North Carolina:

Ransom Miller testimony

In April 1870, the House of Representatives investing the matter eported that although there was probably some minor intimidation and fraud, there was not enough to change the results of the election. Shober was seated and re-elected in 1870.

Adapted in part from http://ncpedia.org/biography/shober-francis-edwin

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Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Politics, Rights

When time came for women to vote.

In which my grandmother schools me on her grandmother and voting:

NICHOLSON -- Harriet Nicholson 1

Harriet Nicholson Tomlin Hart (1861-1926)

Me: How did she work that? How did Harriet get to be the first black woman to vote?

Grandma: Well, because her husband [T. Alonzo Hart] was a lawyer.

Me: Right.

Grandma: He was a, whatchacall – a real estate lawyer. And he taught her how to read and write and do everything after he married her. Or while he was marrying her. Or something. And when time came for women to vote, she was the first black – he carried her down to the polls, and she was the first black woman to vote. And then at that time, you know, they gave you a quiz.

Me: Right. Right. Right. For black people to vote. Yeah. ‘Cause did your parents – well, did your father vote?

Grandma: Oh, yeah. Papa voted. He voted. And the people in my home, Lisa, fought in the streets [Statesville, North Carolina]. It was dange – I mean, we could not go outside the house on election night. The people — “Who’d you vote for?” “I’m a Democrat.” “I’m a Republican.” Pam-a-lam-a-lam! [Swings fists, and I break into laughter.] People acted like they were crazy! Papa didn’t allow us out the house. “You better be getting on home!” ‘Cause they were terrible.

Me: And now you got to drag people out to vote. And then you hear people going: “I’m not gon vote now. What’s the point? I blah-blah-blah.”

Grandma: Yeah. When I came here [Newport News, Virginia] you had to pay poll tax.

Me: Yeah.

Grandma: It wasn’t a whole lot, but it was ridiculous.

Me: Yep.

[My grandmother cast her last ballot — at age 100 — for Barack Obama in 2008.]

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Interview of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

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