Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995 Page: 103
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The Freedmen 's Bureau in Colorado County, Texas, 1865-1868
employers expressed cautious optimism about the cotton yield and represented that "if
the worms do not come they will raise as much, if not more cotton than they will be able
to gather." Goodman told headquarters that the freedmen worked "very well and take
great pride in their fine crops and as a general thing are treated humanely & justly."'104
But this humane and just treatment was not universal. Writing to state
bureau headquarters, Goodman asked for guidance on what course of action to pursue
in assault and battery complaints where whites committed violence upon blacks. These
"cases frequently occur in this County," the Columbus agent contended, and he wanted
to know if he had the right to try these individuals in a bureau court. All too often, he
stated, the civil officials ignored such attacks. Moreover, he was unsure if he had the
authority to fine or imprison the guilty parties rather than simply to turn them over to the
civil courts for trial. He believed that if he had to release freedmen into the hands of the
local officials, it would be difficult to ensure that they received justice.'105
Goodman also helped freedmen to collect wages they were due. In one case,
Mary Hartsfield, a freedwoman, complained to the agent that she had worked for a Mrs.
Elizabeth Turner for three months. The type of labor that Hartsfield performed for Turner
was not specified, but it was probably domestic service. Hartsfield testified that she and
Turner had entered into a contract that required that the black woman be paid eight
dollars a month. Subsequently, Turner had physically driven Hartsfield from the farm and
refused to pay her the back wages she felt were due her. Goodman assisted the women
in collecting her money.106
Despite such positive actions, Goodman's troubles extended into the black
community. On July 4, 1866, some of the white citizens of Columbus expressed a desire
to raise the Confederate flag. Learning of their plans, the black community requested that
Goodman not allow the flag to be displayed. To their dismay, he ignored their complaint
and permitted the flag to be flown. Later, Goodman angered local freedmen further by
requesting that blacks who attended school not sing "The Battle Cry of Freedom," as
seemed to have become a common practice. The school teacher, a Miss M. Hartwell,
ignored Goodman's attempted interference with her school. She later forced a chaplain,
who was assistant superintendent of schools, to leave when he sought to establish
bureau control over her efforts to bring literacy to blacks. Goodman left Columbus soon
Goodman's departure in August 1866 ended the first phase of the Texas
Freedmen's Bureau operations in Colorado County and the headquarter town of
Columbus. From September 1865, when the Texas bureau first began to function, until
August 1866, four men represented the agency in Columbus, none for longer than four
months. As a result of their incredibly short tenures, the agents never established any
104 J. Ernest Goodman to W. H. Sinclair (acting assistant adjutant general), July 31, 1866, vol. 72,
p. 21. This letter is also in Assistant Commissioners, Letters Received, G-22. On microfilm it is in M821, Reel
105 J. Ernest Goodman to W. H. Sinclair (acting assistant adjutant general), May 22, 1866, vol. 72,
106 J. Ernest Goodman to Mrs. Elizabeth Turner, May 17, 1866, vol. 72, p. 6.
107 Richter, Overreached On All Sides, p. 107; Campbell, "Reconstruction in Colorado County," p.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 5, Number 2, May, 1995, periodical, May 1995; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151394/m1/35/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed April 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.