I researched the Columbus newspapers of 1887 for Higgins. The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus Daily Times, and the weekly Columbus Recorder never mentioned that Higgins was colored. The first two times the Ohio State Journal mentioned him, it didn't. A notes column in the OSJ on July 4 ("Higgins, the colored catcher, played his initial game Saturday. He did fairly well...") was the only time his race was ever mentioned in the papers.
The Columbus players sent letters to the Dispatch and Journal in support of their manager on August 1, signed by 14 players. The papers printed the letters. That is how his first initial J. was known. Several other players' initials or first names are given that are not included on the team roster on Baseball Reference.
The players were paid on August 1. Several went out and drank too much beer. Higgins and Miller were suspended.
There is a picture in the Arcadia Columbus baseball book that is supposed to be this 1887 Ohio State League team, including Higgins. (There is one black.) It is online on the Columbus Metropolitan Library's site [link]. Have any SABR photo experts looked at this? It says it is a 5 by 8 photo of the Clippers baseball team, which was an amateur team that also played at Recreation Park in 1887. Does it look like a minor league team or an amateur one? Does it look like an 1887 photo? The August 1 letter was signed by 14 players. The Dispatch a week before said the club had carried 16 or 17 players all season and were releasing a couple of players. There are only nine players in the photo. Three of the 14 that signed the letter played in the majors, Bill Schwartz, Ed Hutchinson, and Ben Stephens.
G.B. "Ben" Stephens, age 19, joined the team a few days before Higgins, who was brought to catch Stephens. Higgins had caught him in 1886. Has anyone looked for them in the Detroit area in the 1886 Detroit papers?
I went to the Ancestry.com site and extracted the names of people associated with baseball from the Columbus, Ohio directories that were published from the years 1888 to 1892. There were a number of J. Higgins (James Higgins, John Higgins, etc) but not information to declare any single one of them as the pictured ball player.
Ancestry.com. Columbus, Ohio Directories, 1887-92 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000.