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

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Passing for Black in Pactolus Prime

I know of nothing that could give me greater pleasure than the “disgust” you say
your readers are expressing in regard to Pactolus Prime.…

Please tell your readers for me, with all kindness and sincerity, that if they
will get upon their knees and study their own hearts as Christians and American
citizens, … they will do more than any human genius can toward determining
what the sequel of the lives of … millions … shall be.

—Albion W. Tourgée to H. S. Harrison, editor,
Chicago Advance, 26 March 1889

Tourgée’s novella Pactolus Prime; or, The White Christ had been running since 13 December 1888 as an extended “Christmas Story” in the Chicago Advance, a Congregationalist weekly, when it ended abruptly on 14 March, leaving its African American title character dead and the fates of the two other African American protagonists unresolved. Besieged by angry subscribers who felt “imposed upon” by a truncated plot, the Advance’s editor warned Tourgée that unless he agreed to furnish a “sequel” tying up loose ends, the journal would have to break its contract with him for another serial. Tourgée’s truculent reply spelled out his aesthetic philosophy with crystalline precision. He did not intend “merely to please—and certainly not to instruct” readers, he underscored, for to do so would be to treat them as passive consumers of literature. Nor did he intend to fulfill readers’ desire for a story to “end as they had mapped out that it should,” for they derived their expectations from the very status quo he sought to change. Thus, he had purposely provoked their “disgust” as a means of spurring them to imagine—and create— new possibilities for “tomorrow.” In short, Tourgée conceived of literature as a vehicle for promoting social transformation, and he defined the relationship between author and reader as a dynamic partnership in that endeavor.1

Responding to a request for clarifications of the plot from a critic assigned to review the serialized novella for a literary society, Tourgée elaborated still more explicitly on the aesthetic philosophy guiding his formal choices. He had indeed meant that “much should be read between the lines” and even “outside the lines,” he confirmed. Instead of “coddling” readers, he sought to awaken in them “an unsatisfied questioning impulse.” He had deliberately left his novella “not incomplete but suggesting” questions that readers would

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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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