African-Americans at the Capitol
John Adams Hyman
African-American History at the Capitol
George Henry White
George Henry White
John Adams Hyman

As a historic site, we seek to tell the stories of the people who worked in this building.  Recently historians have been trying to learn more about how African Americans worked at the Capitol.

The Capitol before the Civil War

The West Stairs
Current research leads us to believe that the stairs in the west, or back, stairwell were damaged by the iron rims used on the wheelbarrows used to cart fire wood to the upper floors.  The Capitol has 28 fireplaces and in the winter, it took lots of wood to keep the chambers warm.  The chipped and broken stairs show evidence of the slaves’ work. 

Before the Civil War, slaves were hired by building overseers to maintain and clean the building.  This arrangement was made between the slave owner and the building overseer.  The owner would be paid for the slave’s work.

Friday Jones
We do not have much information about the African Americans who helped build or maintain the Capitol from the 1830’s through the end of the Civil War.  One man we do know of, Friday Jones, spent most of his life in Raleigh, and worked at the Capitol, first as an enslaved builder and later as a night watchman.  In 1883, he published his autobiography “Days of Bondage:  Autobiography of Friday Jones, Being a Brief Narrative of his Trials and Tribulations in Slavery.”

Friday Jones was born a slave in Wake County, North Carolina.  Of his early years here, he wrote, “My first remembrance of my life begins when I was from 8 to 10 years of age.  I was born in North Carolina in 1810, the property of Olser Hye, within 15 miles of the capital of the state—Raleigh.  My mother’s name was Cherry and my father’s, Barney. I was taken away from them when I was small and hired out to Sim Alfred, who lived about two miles from where I was born.  My mother was traded for a tract of land and sent to Alabama.  My father died about this time.”

Mr. Jones became the property of slaveholder Colonel Tignal Jones of Wake County, when the colonel married Olser Hye’s daughter Emily.  Friday was one of the enslaved men who helped construct the Capitol.  As he said, “I was out of his employ for four years, working for the Government of North Carolina, after which I fell back in his hands, working on his farm and on the Raleigh & Gaston R.R.  He set out to part my wife and I, as he had threatened {sic} to do.”

After the war, he worked here as a night watchman.  He was founding member and trustee of the First colored Baptist Church in Raleigh.  He left Raleigh in his early seventies, moving to Washington, D.C. to work at the U.S. Capitol and to publish his autobiography.  After his death on August 10, 1887, the Raleigh News and Observer ran an obituary in his  memory--  a rare occurrence for a former slave.

  • Why do we know a lot about some people and so little about others who lived in the past? 
  • Did most slaves know how to read or write? 
  • What did they leave behind to tell their story?
  • Why were there no African American law makers in North Carolina before 1858? 
  • What changed? 
  • What do you think it was like at the Capitol for the first black legislators?

James Henry Harris
was born free in Granville County in 1832.  He apprenticed at an early age with a Warren County upholsterer.  He used his savings and opened his own upholstery business.  He moved to Ohio before accepting a commission to raise the U.S. Twenty-eighth Regiment of Colored Troops in Indiana.  After the war, he returned to North Carolina, where he presided over the state’s Equal Rights League, led the 1866 Freedmen’s Convention, and organized the Union League.

Born free in Bertie County in 1834, Parker D. Robbins learned how to read and write even
though North Carolina outlawed the education of African Americans.  Before  enlisting in the Second United States Colored Cavalry of For Monroe, Virginia, he
farmed and supported himself as a carpenter, mechanic, and inventor.  Following his
discharge from the army, he returned to Bertie County where he was chosen as a delegate to the 1868 constitutional convention.  Afterward, he served two consecutive terms as a state representative.  He also became Hertford County postmaster, obtained agricultural patents, and ran his own sawmill, steamboat, and cotton gin.

Abraham Galloway, the son of a seventeen-year-old enslaved woman and white ship
002Captain, was born in Brunswick County in 1837.  His owner allowed him to work as a brick mason until 1857, when Galloway escaped to Canada, hiding in a barrel of turpentine.  There he became an outspoken abolitionist, became a Union spy in 1862, and encouraged blacks to join the Union army.  After the war, he traveled across North Carolina advocating equal rights and helping organize the 1865 Freedmen’s Convention.  New Hanover County chose him to attend the 1868 constitutional convention and elected him to two consecutive terms to the state Senate where he supported women’s suffrage and labor rights.  He died unexpectedly at the age of 33 while still in office.  Six thousand people attended his funeral, an event the Christian Recorder called “the largest ever know in this state.”

Edward “Ned” Rawls was born into slavery in 1836.  A Northampton County native, he    married the daughter of U.S. congressman, confederate General, and Minister to Mexico Matt Whitaker Ransom [his is one of the four busts in the rotunda] and his enslaved servant Emma.  Rawls served in the state House of Representatives four times.  In 1885 his colleagues contested his election, denying him his seat.  In 1887, he regained it and began supporting education for African American students.

004John Adams Hyman was born enslaved in Warren County on July 23, 1840. When Hyman was young, Mr. King, a Warrenton area jeweler, taught him to read and write.  When local citizens learned of the illegal education, they forced King and his family to leave Warrenton.  Hyman was then sold to the state of Alabama to work as a “brute.”  He was sold seven more times for attempting to educate himself.  He returned to Warren County in 1865, received an elementary education, opened a store, and initiated political activity among the freed slaves.  He attended the Freedmen’s Convention, served as the voting registrar in Warrenton in 1867, and attended the Constitutional Convention of 1868, he began his first term in the state Senate, supporting civil rights for blacks and education for the poor.  In 1874, he was elected as a Republican to the 44th United States Congress, where he served a single term. 


006George H. White was born enslaved near present-day Rosindale, North Carolina on December 18, 1852 where he worked as a farm hand.  After attending Howard University, he traveled to New Bern and became a school teacher and lawyer.  In 1880, he ran for a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, campaigning for increased spending on African American education.  He served in the House for six years before being elected to the state Senate.  In 1896, North Carolinians elected him to the U.S. House of  Representatives, where he was the last former slave to serve in Congress and the last African American to  be elected to the legislative body for forty years.  He fought against racial discrimination and tried without success to compel the federal government to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment in states like North Carolina, where African Americans had been denied the vote.  In 1901, he proposed a bill making lynching a federal crime, arguing that the majority of lynchings in the Deep South were of African Americans.  The House defeated the bill and White’s outspoken position cost him his seat.  North Carolina would not elect another African American to Congress until Eva Clayton was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992.