First Mixed Jury

April 18, 1896

Summary

C. L. Harris, one of the first black men to serve in a jury, speaks his recollections of 1967 trial of Jefferson Davis, which just so happened to be the first trial involving a jury which included black men.

Transcription

Newport News, Va., Jan 15, 96.
Mr. John Mitchell, Jr., Editor of Planet.
Dear Sir: I promised to give you an outline of the times and the time I was a member of the grand jury which indicted Mr. Jefferson Davis, the first mixed jury ever empaneled in this country. lt was in May, 1867. The late president of the Confederate States of America obeyed the summons to appear before the Federal court at Richmond. Chief Justice Chase and District Judge Underwood presided at the trial.
His being in court excited many spectators who were anxious to hear the trial. I noticed Mr. Davis leaning on the left side of the bar of the court, on the eastern entrance to the court room. The place was densely packed with some of our best citizens of Richmond and vicinity. A few faces might be seen of the colored, the body being white. What excited the spectators was at the time when the foreman, Mr. Botts, and the rest of the grand jury walked through the western entrance suddenly took their seats in the jury box. I came in the body and about to take my seat near Mr. Botts I looked over the crowd and cast my eyes at Mr. Davis. He looked on me and smiled, then the whole body burst almost in a general laugh. I could but smile, as I was the object of attraction to the lookers on as well as Mr. Davis, being the first black man ever seen on a jury in this country.
Mr. Botts handed the bill of indictment to Mr. Chandler, the District Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
It became my lot to be a member of the grand jury of the U. S., because of a speech delivered in the convention that was held at the Old African Church now known as Rev. 1st Baptist Church. This was the first convention after the war, which organized the republican party. Hon. John Hokshouse of Alexandria was president of said convention.
The number of colored men on the grand jury was six. Dr. Fields Cook, Messrs. John Oliver, George Seaton, Simms, Hon. Rosina Beckley, with your humble servant, Cornelius Liggan Harris. The number of whites on said jury was twelve, viz: Hon. John Minor Botts, foreman, the Hon. John Hoxhouse, Mr. Balvin, of Prince William Co., Va., Mr. Peter Couch, Hon. Joseph Segar, Mr. Umbarger and other gentlemen of distinction whose names I cannot now remember.
One more thing I shall note - the Federal execution required bondsmen influential in the republican party of the north and Mr. Greely being especially named seemed as a matter of justice considered as legal, and no motive from personal regard Mr. Greely and Mr. Garret Smith were bondsmen for Mr. Davis.
I am unable to say how many of my comrades remain to survive with me. I know not, but it is certain the foreman, Hon. John Minor Botts, Hon. Joseph Segar and Mr. George Heaton have gone the way of all the earth. 1 am left to tell what happened.
It will be gratifying to the reader when I say that Mr. Davis was represented by that well known giant mind the Hon. Charles Oconor of New York City. Will I ever forget the polite mode in which he addressed the court? Two hundred thousand dollars (200000) were the required security, it being at hand. Counsel for the defendant promised the court whenever Mr. Davis should be needed he would be forth coming. The requirements being me the court adjourned and the anxious spectators went to their several places of abode.
I, C. L. Harris, was born in Buckingham County, Va., in 1833 Nov 27. I was brought to Richmond at six months of age. My mother's name was Cecelia Harris, formerly Cecelia Liggan. She was the wife of Isaac Harris, as records of the clerk's office of the Hustings Court of the city of Richmond will show.
I lived in Richmond, Va., ever since 1834 until the time of my removal Aug 12, 1890. Since that time I have resided in Newport News. It is proper for me to state in this connection that I married a lady in 1865 by the name Matilda Jane Howell, daughter of Henry Howell of Powhatan County, Va.
We have recently celebrated our fortieth marriage anniversary. We are blessed to be in good health.
Respectfully yours, C. L Harris
About this article

Location on Page

Upper Left Quadrant

Contributed By

Liam Eynan

Citation

“First Mixed Jury,” Black Virginia: The Richmond Planet, 1894-1909, accessed October 16, 2018, http://blackvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/1673.