A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
A Straight-Talking Advocate

The true interests of an oppressed people were never yet served by apology,
petition or submission.… Good-temper is an excellent thing when we speak of
the wrongs of others.… But when one feels the iron of oppression and has the
cause of a people on his heart, it is the hot fire of resentment flowing through
his speech that convinces the world of his sincerity.… [W]hen next you have a
chance to strike a blow for your people, hit hard and let the world know that the
gall of oppression is not changed to honey by the color of the skin.

— Albion W. Tourgée to J. Gray Lucas, 28 February 1891

A week before receiving the above letter, J. Gray Lucas, an African American who had recently been elected to the Arkansas State Legislature, had sent a copy of his speech against the Jim Crow car bill that his colleagues were debating—one of many sprouting up all over the South in the 1890s— to Albion W. Tourgée, then the foremost white champion of African Americans. Lucas probably knew that Tourgée had been encouraging New Orleans people of color to challenge the constitutionality of a similar law Louisiana had passed requiring segregated railway travel, and he sought Tourgée’s endorsement of his own efforts. Instead of praising the “pacificatory” tone Lucas had struck in his speech, however—a tone adapted to the lethal conditions of white supremacist rule under which African Americans lived in the Deep South—Tourgée had objected that the strategy of trying to “kill a cat” by “overfeed[ing] it with sweetened cream” merely “wasted a deal of good cream.” “It is useless to appeal to the conscience of the Southern white man,” Tourgée argued. “The only hope lies in continued appeal to the conscience of the North, which though dull and apathetic is still open to appeal.” Because white Northerners had succumbed to the myth that “the colored man is content with his debasement,” Tourgée emphasized, African Americans must jolt them out of their illusions with militant demands for justice.1

Lucas did not reply for almost a year, but his next letter indicates that far from having taken offense at Tourgée’s brutally frank criticism, he had greeted it as the gesture of a “friend.” Thus, he reciprocated by addressing Tourgée as “Dear Sir and Friend.” He confided, “I have many a time and oft thought to write you how heartily I appreciate your endeavors to not only

-1-

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A Refugee from His Race: Albion W. Tourgée and His Fight against White Supremacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter One - A Straight-Talking Advocate 1
  • Chapter Two - Passing for Black in Pactolus Prime 54
  • Chapter Three - The "Bystander" 91
  • Chapter Four - The National Citizens’ Rights Association 149
  • Chapter Five - Campaigning against Lynching with Ida B. Wells and Harry C. Smith 196
  • Chapter Six - Representing People of Color and Challenging Jim Crow in the Plessy Case 253
  • Chapter Seven - The View from Abroad 294
  • Afterword 333
  • Notes 337
  • Bibliography 405
  • Index 423
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