Noah Baxter Feagin (born July 7, 1843 in Midway, Barbour County; died August 1, 1920) was a long-time judge of the Inferior Criminal Court of Birmingham and an influential figure in addressing the problems of juvenile delinquency.
Feagin was the son of James Madison and Almira Feagin. He was a student at the Nashville Military Institute at the start of the Civil War. He returned to Barbour County and enlisted in June 1861 in the Midway Southern Guards, which were enrolled into the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment as Company B as a private. He served in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and later with the Army of Northern Virginia at Cold Harbor and Malvern Hill, and then in the Maryland campaign at Cedar Mountain, Hazel River, Harper's Ferry and Shepherdstown. The deaths of his superiors in the 2nd Battle of Manassas in August 1862 left him in command of his company for the duration of the war. In 1863 his unit participated in the Siege of Suffolk, Virginia. Afterward, in support of the Army of Northern Georgia, he was recognized for gallantry at Chickamauga and continued from there to Bean's Station and Knoxville, and then back into Virginia. Feagin suffered several injuries during the war, but was never absent from service. He was accompanied throughout his service by his "faithful old negro servant," who labored in camp and tended to Feagin's meals, clothes and wounds.
After Lee's surrender, Feagin worked a farm in Bullock County for a short while before enrolling at Washington College in Lexington, Virginia to study law. He returned to Alabama in 1870 and edited the Union Springs Times before he was admitted to the bar in 1871. He served one term as Mayor of Union Springs and married the former Annie Martin Phillips in February 1876. The couple had three children: Jewett, Alma and Carolyn.
In May 1884 Feagin moved to Anniston and served as Mayor of that city for a term. He resigned that office to come to Birmingham in October 1886 and practiced as an attorney. In 1896 Feagin kept an office in the Potter Building on 1st Avenue North.
In 1895 Governor William Oates appointed Feagin to serve on the Inferior Criminal Court. Feagin was re-elected thrice by popular vote. The Birmingham Board of Aldermen then elected him to serve as Recorder when the city took over the operation of the police court. His last term concluded in 1910.
On June 5, 1899 police chief Conrad Austin complained aloud the Feagin had made a habit of dismissing cases that should have resulted in criminal convictions. He was found in contempt of court and fined $10. Austin urged the judge to increase the fine, and he did, adding that Captain William Weir should take him to jail. Weir declined to do so, saying that Austin was his superior. Feagin instructed Weir that the police were officers of his court and his order should be followed, but Austin left the courtroom. That evening, Feagin's 21 year-old son Jewett appeared at Austin's door , accompanied by John Bradley and followed by two patrolmen. He was admitted to the house and asked whether Austin would apologize. Austin replied that he owed the Judge no apology. It was alleged that Feagin then put his hand in his front pocket, at which time Austin struck him in the face and restrained him. The other officers came in and found a new pistol in Feagin's front pocket. Feagin was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Judge Feagin recused himself from the case.
Feagin's institution of a juvenile court for Birmingham in 1898 served as a model for a statewide system established by law. He helped co-found the Birmingham Boys Club in 1901, providing recreation, meals and baths to orphaned boys living on the city's streets. He organized a group of 90 Black women to act as guardians to delinquent boys. His work also led to the creation of the Boys' Industrial School in Roebuck and indirectly to the establishment of the state's reformatory for Black boys at Mount Meigs.
Feagin was lauded by Harvard sociologist H. C. Cummings during the 1904 Conference for Education in the South. He was invited by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 to testify before a Congressional committee debating the establishment of a federal children's bureau. In 1911 Feagin delivered a welcoming address to the delegates attending the 1911 National Child Labor Committee Conference in Birmingham. Later that year he corresponded with Chicago social economist Sophonisba Breckinridge regarding advances in philanthropic work. Feagin also taught a Bible class at the Church of the Advent.
Feagin suffered from rheumatism in his later years. He died at a local infirmary in 1920. He was survived by his wife and his oldest daughter, Alma, who were visiting Pasadena, California at the time of his death. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
- "He Resented Chief Austin's Criticism of His Father" (June 6, 1889) The Birmingham News, p. 6
- Ohlander, Marcus (1902) Historical Souvenir: History: The Birmingham Police Department Birmingham: Birmingham Police Relief Association
- Dubose, Joel Campbell (1904) Notable men of Alabama: Personal and Genealogical 2 Volumes. Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Historical Association
- "Address by the Rev. H. C. Cummings, D.D." (1904) "Proceedings of the Conference for education in the South"
- Ingram, Jessica (February 9, 1919) "Judge N. B. Feagin" The Birmingham News, p. 11
- "Feagin Funeral Service Delayed" (August 2, 1920) The Birmingham News, p. 11
- "Service is Held for Judge Feagin" (August 6, 1920) The Birmingham News, p. 17
- Noah Feagin at Findagrave.com