Condition of Affairs in Georgia

Testimony from Henry M. Turner

The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives for the Third Session of the Fortieth Congress Committee on Reconstruction Relative to the Affairs in Georgia, 1868-69. Washington: Government Printing Office

December 19, 1868

By Mr. Boutwell:

Question. Please state your residence and occupation!

Answer. I reside at Macon, Georgia. I have heretofore been a minister, and am yet. I am now a missionary of the African Methodist Episcopal church, and was lately a member of the Georgia legislature.

Q. You are one of the persons expelled from that legislature?

A. I am.

Q. Did you hear Mr. Sims’s statement this morning as to the reasons for his expulsion; and if so, are those reasons such as you would give?

A. Yes, sir; I agree in them. I beg leave, however, to explain the reasons given by him, with a few remarks. The strongest argument that was urged by the democratic party in favor of our expulsion was that no specific rights were given in the constitution allowing the negro to hold office; while we, on the opposite, took the ground that if the negro had no right by virtue of the constitution, any rights they had themselves were forfeited by the rebellion, and that Congress gave rights alike to the white man and the black. And we claimed that under the reconstruction acts we had the same rights that white citizens had.

Q. Were you a member and the president of the convention of colored people recently held at Macon?

A. Yes, sir; I was president of that convention.

Q. Did that convention represent the negro population of the State pretty extensively?

A. Very extensively. There were not members from all the counties. The poverty of our people was so great that in some instances two counties joined together and sent one man to represent them both. One hundred and eighty delegates were present from all parts of the State. What is known in Georgia as “the negro belt” was well represented; I mean the middle and southern parts of the State. Several of our delegates had to walk 50 or 60 miles; and one man, I think, walked 105 miles to get to the convention, owing to the fact that neither he nor his constituents were able to pay his fare there by railroad.

Q. Was the manner of conducting the presidential election a subject of special discussion in that convention, as to the exercise of the right of voting by the negroes?

A. Yes, sir. This convention was held just before the presidential election, and there has been no general convention of the colored people of the State held since. A committee was appointed “on murders and outrages,” and every man made his report to that committee. A synopsis of the reports was made by the committee, which I would be glad to place in the hands of this committee if they will allow me. If I had known that I would be called upon by the committee to make a statement in regard to the condition of the colored people, being president of the Civil Rights Association, and receiving letters and reports from all parts of the state, I could have laid before you an immense mass of documents on that subject.

Q. Have you information from different parts of the State, since the presidential election, as to the manner in which that election was conducted, and especially as to the exercise of the right of suffrage by the colored people? If so, state that information to the committee.

A. I have. I may state that in the city of Macon, where I live, I suppose the best moral sentiment prevails among all the citizens, anywhere in Georgia. We have a splendid mayor there. He is a democrat, but is an honest, upright gentleman; and our municipal officers generally are dignified, intelligent and faithful officers. They have always kept good order in Macon. It is true we have found grave objections in the courts; but we had a fair election in Macon, and the result was that we polled a heavier vote, I believe, than we have heretofore given, amounting to something like 800 hundred republican majority in the city of Macon and county of Bibb. No outrages were perpetrated there at the election, except that one colored man was arrested on the charge, by a white man, that he had been convicted and served in the penitentiary. It created great excitement at the time; but as soon as the sheriff was promptly informed that the man had never seen a penitentiary, much less convicted of any crime and sent there, he let him out about nine o clock that night. But I must say that in southern Georgia, so far as I had learned form letters received and from persons coming to Macon with bullets in their legs, bullets in their sides, and bullets in their heads, the evidence is very strong that the election did not pass without great outrages being committed.

By Mr. Norris:

Q. What has been your observation in regard to the conduct of the colored men generally, in there attendance at the political meetings, at the polls, and everywhere? Have any outrages been instituted by them? In other words, are they responsible for any of the broils and difficulties that have occurred?

A. Before answering that question I would like to say that I have traveled and lectured as much and probably more than any other man in Georgia, and I say this in the highest respect for others who have worked faithfully; and there have been a great many heroes there in the right cause, as well as in the wrong cause. I say that I have spoken in as many places and to as many people in our State, and I know as much about the condition of our people as any other man in our State; and I can say before God, and in view of the judgment, that I have yet the first time to see the first colored man in any meeting- though I have seen them in meetings from a hundred to four or five thousand- Who has ever inaugurated strife with the whites. And I want to say further, that in all these assemblages I have rarely ever seen a drunken black man. They will hurrah and cheer for Grant, or Bullock, or whoever is the candidate, and sing, as the people always do at such meeting; but I have never known them to create a disturbance. And I say, furthermore- and I challenge any white man in the State of Georgia to contradict it- that no meeting did the colored people ever inaugurate strife or collision with the whites.

Q. In these meetings you have seen a good many white republicans, both southern and northern people. Have they generally initiated these disturbances?

A. Never, except by the vindication of their own views. These are the only things that have ever done to disturb anybody that I know of; simply to commend their views to the people, and to advise the people to go that way.

Q. Have you ever known black men at these meetings to be disturbed by those known as conservatives or democrats?

A. I have heard of a good many such disturbances. I do not know that any of my meetings where ever disturbed. As an individual I must say that the whites have listened to me very attentively, and none my meetings have ever been disturbed. Of course there have been questions asked at me, which I have answered. But I have reason to believe that a great many meetings in the State have been disturbed.

Q. What was the republican majority in Bibb County at the last election, in comparison with the majority for the constitution when the vote was taken upon its ratification?

A. It was larger.

Q. And you say you had a fair election?

A. We had a fair election at the presidential election.