TESTIMONY OF HILLIARD ELLIS.
HILLIARD ELLIS, colored, sworn and examined.
By Senator Vance [Zebulon B. Vance, Democrat-North Carolina].
Question. Where is your place of residence? — Answer. In four miles of Wilson Township, in the county of Wilson, North Carolina.
Q. Has there been any movement among the colored people with reference to this exodus movement in your section? – A. Yes, sir; I suppose there has been some.
Q. Do you know anything about it? – A. Well, sir, I have heard people talking about it.
Q. Do you know what inducement was held out to them to leave North Carolina? – A. Some, I think, were going for better wages, and some were complaining that they could not get their rights under this law. I cannot really tell you all that was said, for I just heard it. I think some of them went just to have a big ride – come for one thing and some for another. They did not talk much to me about it.
Q. Why? – A. Because I suppose they thought it was no use talking to me; I wasn’t going nohow. They organized a club there, I understand.
Q. Was that a secret society? – A. Yes, sir; I think so. Nobody could get their secrets unless he joined the club.
Q. Was there any agents up there making speeches to them? – A. Yes, sir; there was a fellow from Goldsboro’ by the name of Evans; I think they said that was the name. He was encouraging the thing along, as I heard it.
Q. What were the inducements he held out to these people? – A. He said they could get from one to two and three and four dollars a day, according to the season. When spring opens, I think they were to get two dollars and a half and three dollars.
Q. Was that in Indiana? – A. Yes, sir.
Q. Do you know what inducement was offered them about transportation? – A. Yes, sir; I heard some say that they had to pay so much, and then they gave them the secret of how to get along out to Indiana. Some of them thought they were going to go free.
Q. What is your occupation? – A. I am a farmer.
Q. Do you own land? – A. Yes, sir.
Q. How much? – A. I have a little upwards of two hundred acres.
Q. Is it good or poor land? – A. It is tolerably good land.
Q. What is it valued at? – A. I can hardly tell you, but my taxes are twelve or thirteen dollars a year, as I pay no poll tax.
Q. You can tell us the usual price of labor there? – A. In my neighborhood we don’t pay as much as they do down below on the big farms. The wages are eight and ten dollars down there; but we don’t push them up our way, and only pay them seven and nine dollars. That is the price right in my neighborhood.
Q. What does that include? – A. It gives them a house rent free, fire wood free, and a patch to tend, and five pounds of meat, and a peck of meal a week.
Q. You pay them from seven to nine dollars, according to the grade of the hand? – A. Yes, sir; but there are some I would rather give nine to than to give seven to others.
Q. You give them five pounds ration, a peck of meal, a house, a patch and fire wood free? – A. Yes, sir.
Q. How long does that last? – A. That is for twelve months. I generally hire for a year at a time.
Q. What do day-laborers get when you hire them? – A. Forty cents a day, with lodgings and rations.
Q. Is there any restriction upon the rights of the colored people in your county? Are they interfered with in their right to vote? – A. No, sir; not at my township. I have been poll-holder there myself for a long time.
Q. You mean you have been a judge of elections? – A. yes, sir. Sometimes we have a little differences about the men’s registering, but there is no violations and no difficulties there.
Q. Do the colored people vote the same as others? – A. Yes, sir; a black man votes the same as a white man.
Q. Is it the same way all over the county? – A. I heard of little disturbances around in places, but I do not think there were any disturbances in town.
Q. Your voting place is not in Wilson – in the town, I mean? – A. No, sir; I live four miles out, and vote at a place about a mile from my place.
Q. What is the state of feeling between the whites and the blacks there? – A. I have heard of no difficulties between them. I know, of course, in town, when they are drinking, of Saturday evenings, they are liable to have difficulties and fights. But there is nothing political in that.
Q. Do you know of any reason, in the way of political disturbances or proscription or discrimination of the laws, to make these people leave your country? – A. No, sir. One think I heard them say, that they were going where they could get better wages; that they could not live on the prices if cotton was low. But I think it amounted to about the same, in the way of living, as when they got thirteen and fourteen cents for cotton. They could get meat for five cents, which was cheaper than they ever got it before. The price of cotton is better than it was last year, and the price of labor has gone up with it.
Q. About how much real estate has been acquired by the colored people in your county? – A. I could not tell you, sir. I know people right in my neighborhood, and could pick out scattered men, who own a good deal.
Q. Can a colored man who is sober and industrious stand as good a chance as a white man to acquire property, when both of them start without any? – A. Well, sir, I have always done so myself.
Q. Can one do as well as the other? – A. I think they do. If any difference has been made, I can’t see it. I always do well myself.
Q. These men, you said, were going to Indiana for better wages, have you heard anything from them since they have been out there? – A. I have head of them but not myself. Mr. Farmer, who lives near me, received a letter from some of them, which they said to send to Hilliard Ellis’s church to be read.
Q. Was it read? – A. Yes, sir.
Q. What were the contents of it? – A. He wanted them to make up some money to bring him back home. He said he wanted all the members to throw in a little bit to help him.
Q. What reason did he give for wanting to come home? – A. He said had been there eighteen days and only made two dollars. He said he had stopped there in town and could get no work, and he wanted his friends to help him back.
Q. Did he come back? – A. No, sir; not yet, unless he has got there since I left home.
Q. Did they make up money for him? – A. No, sir; I think they said they didn’t know whether he would get the money or not; and they would look further into it. They asked me if I would give something, and I said I did not know.
Q. Could a man who is getting ten dollars a month, his home and rations, and patch to tend to, support himself and family on that? – A. He ought to do it at the present prices of provisions.
Q. In the cotton-picking season, don’t the women and children make good wages? – A. Yes, sir; that is the time of their best wages. A child can pick out as much as a man, almost, and they make more in cotton-picking time, than any other time. That is the reason that a good many of them won’t hire only until fall. They work until the crop is laid up, and then depend on making double wages during the picking season.
Q. Do you know of any complaints as to injustice being done them in the courts? – A. I have heard some of them grumble about not getting justice in some cases; but I have heard both sides to that. One says that they didn’t do right, and the other say that it was right, and backwards and forwards in that way.
Q. Is there no complaint that there is a difference made in the courts between whites and blacks? – A. I have heard of it. I have heard some of them say they didn’t get justice because they were black men.
Q. You do not know of any case that was so? – A. No, sir; I only heard that the colored people, as a general thing, was oftener in the courts for larceny than the white people.
Q. That makes a difference and causes more of them to be in the penitentiary? – A. Yes, sir.
Q. Because more of them commit these little crimes? – A. Yes, sir; I think they think they are not dealt justly by, and then sometimes they slip into the penitentiary before they know it, not being enlightened to know the law. But, I think, in my neighborhood, they try and take care of themselves.
Q. When a colored man has an established character for integrity and honesty, don’t he stand the same chance of getting justice as the white man? – A. I think he does in my town; I don’t go there myself about the courts, and I only hear about it after the courts are done.
By Senator WINDOM [William Windom, Republican-Minnesota]:
Q. You spoke of some complaints; are they general among the colored people? – A. I have heard them complain a good deal after the courts were over for a while. I have heard them say that in such a such case that was tried that they didn’t think they got justice because it was a colored person.
Q. Did they think it was an injustice to them because of their color? – A. Yes, sir; on account of their color. But then you know, in many times, they may be mistaken.
Q. There is an impression that they didn’t get even-handed justice? – A. That is the talk among them. I would not know, probably, if I was to see it.
Q. Have you heard anything in the way of complaints about the tenants law? – A. Yes, sir, a little; but not enough to tell.
Q. Is your county Republican or Democratic? – A. It is Democratic, and always has been. They have got a majority there.
Q. How far do you live from Goldsborough? – A. It is about twenty-four miles from Wilson to Goldsborough.
Q. About how many people have gone from your county? – A. I do not know, sir; really I could not tell. But there are a good many gone right out of that town.
Q. You say you have heard of some political troubles in the Wilson County? – A. Yes, sir; but not serious. They were just little differences between individual men.
Q. Did you hear any of them given as a reason for this emigration? – A. No, sir; but some of them says they wanted to go where they could get better wages.
Q. You said you heard of no disturbance in your locality, but there were some in Wilson? – A. Yes, sir; but it was mostly from whisky. It would be where they were drinking, and they would have a drunken fight. There was no Democrats or no Republicans in it.
Wilson Advance, 6 February 1880.
In the 1870 census of Taylors township, Wilson County: 43 year-old farmer Hilliard Ellis, wife Feribee, and children Caroline, William, George, Emily, Hilliard, Mary Ann and Warren. In 1880, still in Taylors: Hilliard Ellis, wife Fereby, and children Hilliard Jr., Mary A., Warren, Phillis and Milby.
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. [Sessions held Washington, beginning Tuesday, March 9, 1880] U.S. Congressional Serial Set.