Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson

By Mark Elliott | Go to book overview

8
Beginning the Civil Rights Movement

The most popular white man in the country today with Afro-
Americans is that staunch friend of the race, Judge Albion W.
Tourgée.

—Harry C. Smith, Cleveland Gazette, November 21, 1891

I know I voice the sentiments of thousands of my race "in wish-
ing" that the Bystander may live long to speak with clarion
voice against wrong and injustice.

—Ida B. Wells to Tourgée, February 22, 1893

You are fighting a great battle, Judge. You are, if not the only
one, the foremost militant apostle of liberty in the whole land.
You are doing an immense good to the blacks of the South …
instilling in them a spirit of resistance. You are rendering a
great service to the whites of the North by opening their eyes to
dangerous and criminal conditions in the South.

—Louis A. Martinet to Tourgée, May 30, 1893

NOT LONG AFTER HE PUBLISHED AN APPEAL TO CAESAR, Tourgée mused, ""I have probably" done my last work and written my last word" on the subject of race.1 Having made his case for national education repeatedly and at length, he imagined little else he could do to advance the cause of racial equality. He hoped that steady economic and educational progress, aided by the federal government, would enhance African Americans' ability to exercise their hard-won civil and political rights. Yet, he failed to anticipate just how far back the counterrevolution against Reconstruction was about to swing. A rash of lynchings and white mob violence against blacks that started in the South and spread rapidly into the Midwest in the late 1880s heralded a frightening new reassertion of white supremacy. State-mandated racial segregation and the wholesale disenfranchisement of Southern blacks were soon to follow in the 1890s.

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