The Life & Times of Grandison Harris:
Episode III: My Life in Augusta
by Terence L. Johnson
Former Professor, African and African American History
Former Field Archivist
Link for Citation Purposes: https://bwwsociety.org/journal/archive/ba/the-life-and-times-of-grandison-harris-3.htm
Author's Note: The following story is based on accounts of real events from various newspaper and journal articles. Many scenes in this story have been dramatized with fictional accounts. Whenever possible, every attempt has been made to maintain the integrity of the events as they have been reported.
Episode III: My Life in Augusta
My name is Grandison Harris. It is the year 1883, I am colored and I am laying on the ground. As I lay on the cold ground, I think that I hear my mother calling me. I look to my side and for a moment I think that I can see my father smiling, coming to take me home.
I thought about my pain and the pains that had once graced my city of Augusta, Georgia.
When the Yankees won the war in 1865, they came in and occupied the city of Augusta.
We colored were finally free. White and colored soldiers occupied the city. Most of the soldiers who came kept law and order. We had a few outbreaks of violence during the Yankee occupation. We had crimes of thieving, vagrancy, and citizens shooting firearms. There was a shootout between some white Union soldiers and some colored Union soldiers.
The year 1866 was a time when Augusta, Georgia witnessed a large migration of Negroes, but not enough work was available for them. In that same year, the military conducted voter registration that led to the registration of 1478 citizens which enabled Negroes to vote some of our people into office.
During this period, my wife had a lot of unfortunate health problems.
Then I thought back to happier times. A happier time when my wife was still beautiful and when my children were still young.
After many miscarriages, she managed to have more of my children; there was Asbury, Crawford, George, Marinda Boston, Lizzie, and Louisa. They were all very young and under my care. My sons Charles and Joseph continued their schooling. My son, Bird Harris, became a sheriff. My oldest son, Grandison Harris Jr., got involved, along with me, in the convention movement to help the state establish new governments in the South after the war.
My State of Georgia was readmitted into the Union on July 15, 1870.
All was not calm in Georgia. Conflicts between the races and the two political parties sometimes parties. Sometimes the whites attacked Negroes in bloody battles and at other times Negroes erupted insurrections to try and kill as many whites as they could kill. Although most Georgia Negroes supported the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, some Negroes joined the southern Democratic Party.
It should be noted that Negroes in Georgia who belonged to the Republican Party and others who joined the Democratic Party often engaged in a few bloody skirmishes.
White Democrats were not always the victimizers as some Republican writers have often claimed in their newspapers. Negroes and white Republicans sometimes rose up to commit violence in order to seek revenge.
The truth of the matter is that in the early periods of reconstruction in Georgia there were white desperados and there also existed Negro desperados.
Most whites and Negroes in Augusta and other parts of Georgia were mostly
peace-loving men and women who obeyed the law.
For those of you who do not know, desperados were rebels, often men with guns, who plagued society.
The Republican committee at this meeting included a pure Negro, two men of mixed race, a red-headed radical, and an ex-Confederate. The purpose of this Republican committee was to nominate delegates to the Senatorial Convention for our United States. In the 1870s, I was one of the Negro delegates who went to the Senatorial Convention for the state of Georgia. I also even ran for Justice of the Peace and won.
As the only colored Justice of the Peace in Augusta-Richmond, Georgia, I made every attempt to obey the new state constitutions and issue justice to white and colored alike.
Before and after the war, my wife, Rachael, began as a cook in the hospital for coloreds. The hospital was named Freedmen’s Smallpox Hospital. After the Civil War, at times, I also worked in the Freemen’s City Hospital as a Keeper for the insane. In my report in one period I noted that patients received during July, 2: discharged, 3; died, 3; remaining, 23. In Sept of 1870, I noted that the hospital received 10 patients during August; died, 2; discharged, 2; remaining, 28. In Jan of 1871 my hospital report indicated 5 patients received during December; discharged, 4 died, 1; remaining in hospital, 28.
Active in politics as a Republican, we confidently expected a 1,000 majority in this city, but received only about 750 in number. Two Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives defeated the two colored Republican candidates. I, being, the independent Negro candidate for Congress in the Fifth District, lost the county by a small margin. The vote for the Senatorial candidate in Franklin County was very close, with the chances in favor of the Democrats. This was a tremendous gain for the Democrats.
We colored men worked hard in the Republican Party to bring justice into our land. I was one of the men responsible for organizing delegates from each Ward and District. We met in convention and nominated candidates for the Legislature.
1870 was the best of times and the worst of times for Negroes in many parts of Georgia.
The Radicals of Putnam, Georgia elected Abe Turner, a colored man, for Representative.
On a Tuesday night between 12 and 1 o’clock, Alfred Richardson, a colored member of the House from Clarke County was shot by disguised parties in Watkinsville. The question remains, was he killed because he dared run for a political office and win?
It was in Augusta, April 28, 1870, to be exact. It was the day of the celebration a long procession of Negroes proceeded down many streets. One banner held by Negroes proclaimed,
“Georgia, Our Native State, with all thy faults we love thee still." The procession stopped at Mayor J.V.H. Allen's home to give three cheers.
In 1870, I petitioned; but did not succeed, in an extension of the boundaries of the colored cemetery. While as a justice of the peace, I also worked in the Freedman’s Small Pox Hospital, our colored hospital Near the Medical College of Georgia. We took in many ill coloreds, including a blind colored who was living from pillar to post, having to often sleep in alleys or underneath trees.
1870 was the year in Georgia that over fourteen hundred people died of Typhoid Fever and Malaria.
Typhoid Fever is a most difficult illness. I have seen the exhausted bodies and the thin faces and bodies. I have seen men, women, and children in hospital beds with stomach pains and the chills. I saw colored and white rambling to themselves in a state of madness.
Malaria or Ague is a disease that is either caused by swamps or by mosquitoes. Doctors are divided on the actual cause of this disease which gives you chills, fevers, and all other weaknesses.
The colored people had a resistance to Malaria. When Yellow Fever came to Augusta, the coloreds also had the lowest rates of death. No one knows what causes Yellow Fever, but those of us who have studied it know that those who contract it turn a bit yellow. The disease also destroys the liver and the kidneys. I have seen many people who throw up black vomit after contracting this illness. To the best of my knowledge, not much can be done for those who get this disease.
In the next few years, we in Augusta endured an outbreak of Cholera; another mysterious disease.
From this disease, I saw how men, women, and children got diarrhea from the Cholera, vomited, and developed pains in their muscles. I saw how the disease killed many of my friends and family within a few hours after infection. I witnessed bodies become black within a few hours after death. One of my roles at Freedman’s Smallpox hospital was to clean sinks purified by the use of a saturated solution of ferric sulphates. The other chemicals, acid of sulfuric and potassium permanganate, were kept in reserve for use in case of cleaning up cholera or other infections or contagious disease.
Smallpox arrived at the city in 1866 with ex-slave coloreds who fled the countryside and came to Augusta. Colored people are a curious race. Some knew about how to cure disease because of the existence of conjurers, but when the cure of vaccination was given to them by the white man, they remained suspicious. Perhaps because they had heard the same rumors as I had as to what white doctors did to coloreds. Perhaps they also believed as I did, that a man or woman could be controlled through black magic if a pin was stuck in their flesh.
It is possible that some colored people brought variolation, the method of inoculation that involves putting a weakened version of a germ such as smallpox into a cut or sore to create an immunity to the disease. Well, they trusted that method. In fact, the colored had the needed expertise in delivering that method to save lives. I recall stories told that even George Washington enlisted colored soldiers to inoculate his white soldiers with weakened smallpox to protect them against the disease.
But the new method, credited to Jenner, was said in the newspapers to be a success, but rumors in many communities in America and Europe suggested that many side effects and deaths came from the vaccine. It was said that Jenner put in some poisons with his vaccine method which had been absent from the way the colored people had used the inoculation process in years past.
Whatever the reasons, many colored did not wish to be inoculated by the whites. But we, the doctors of the college, did it to them against their wishes.
In the mid-1860s many colored children whose parents were sick from the pox had to be sent to the Orphan Asylum in Atlanta. There were men like one known as Llaso Sanders, a colored man, who adopted a two-year-old colored child named Anna Adams.
As an employee of the hospital I was aware of the number of patients, the number discharged, and the number of patients that died that year and in other years. We had many patients who were either idiots or insane. Because of the violent nature of the insane, it became necessary for us to relocate many of them to the State Lunatic Asylum near Milledgeville. Other colored were mere paupers and also had to dwell in the asylum.
My wife, my sons, and my daughters were lucky. They all had relatively sound minds and bodies. I had enough money to get bank accounts at the Freedmen Bank for my family. The Freedmen Bureau was set up to assist Negroes and poor whites after the war, to ensure that those in the South did not starve and could provide for their families. The Freemen Bank was especially useful for Negroes when white banks refused them similar service.
I seem to recall that I opened separate bank accounts for myself and my wife Rachel. On May 27, 1871, I even opened an account for my nine-year-old son Charles.
It was on August 26, 1873, that Grandison Harris Jr., my oldest son, received his bank account at the Freedmen Bank; he was seventeen at the time.
Unfortunately, speculation of the money by the bank led to bad debts. Most of us lost all of our investments. The bank went bust.
A year earlier, I became the hospital’s Superintendent. In 1871, I ran as an independent candidate for Congress in the Fifth District, but I did not win. As I mentioned before, I became a Justice of the Peace, and most colored and whites respected my judgments in the arena of law. But there were instances when defendants looked at me simply as a Negro. I vaguely remember a court case involving a white man. I do not recall the details of the case but I remember the attitude of a Mr. Jones.
“I don’t want no Negro hearing my case,” said Mr. Jones to me.
“Very well Mr. Jones,” I said.
I left the courtroom. The case against Mr. Jones was carried before Justice Lockhart, a white man, who dismissed the case on technical grounds. The affidavit had not been signed, and no offense being alleged in the warrant.
The prejudices of many whites in Georgia and other areas of the South remained even after the War. Many whites saw Negroes as inferior to them and resented our achievements during the years later known as Reconstruction.
Yet, as Judge, I did my best to help the Negro community, the living and the dead. I often consulted white judges who had more sway in certain areas of society than myself and were not so prejudiced against Negroes.
“Mr. Lockhart, your honor Sir, I need your support.”
I looked Justice Lockhart directly in his eyes.
“What is it Grandison?” the judge asked.
“A deceased Negro boy. He needs to be buried. The lad is about 14 years and cannot bury himself,” I said.
Justice Lockhart rubbed his hands over his partly balding head.
“Grandison, I will make a way for the boy.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I was indeed happy that the boy would have a good burial. I only hoped that more good could be done for the living.
Publisher's Note: By special arrangement with the Author, all reader-remitted Membership Fees resulting from the story above, less processing expenses if any, will be forwarded to the Author as means of remuneration. -JP
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