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

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The “Bystander”

Oftimes a bystander seeth better than one having part in the fray.” …

The law … counts the evidence of the onlooker better than that of the actor.

So opened the article of 21 April 1888 that inaugurated “A Bystander’s Notes,” the weekly column Tourgée published in the Saturday edition of the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean until October 1898. Introducing the persona Tourgée sported for the rest of his career as a journalist, during which he would consistently refer to himself in the third person as “the Bystander,” the quotation from an “ancient chronicler” that prefaced this article articulated the rationale validating the heterodox political commentary he would offer in the column.1 As a bystander detached from the “fray,” Tourgée argued, he saw more clearly than the leaders and party bosses who shaped national policy. He also furnished testimony a court of law would rank superior in accuracy to theirs as “actor[s].” Hence, he implied, politicians involved in the “fray” should heed his advice instead of dismissing it as utopian. In short, from its inception “A Bystander’s Notes” claimed authority precisely from the position on the sidelines to which practical politicians had relegated Tourgée.

Over its ten-year life span, punctuated by several interruptions, “A Bystander’s Notes” would cover an array of topics amounting to an archive of nineteenth-century American culture. This archive would include disquisitions on literary realism and historical fiction; reviews of novels, political biographies, religious works, and pseudoscientific treatises on race; historical retrospectives analyzing the legacies of the slave system, the abolitionist movement, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; interventions in current electoral politics; and discussions of such economic issues as free trade versus protectionism, the gold standard versus bimetallism, and the respective merits of monopoly capitalism, unions, and strikes.

No subject would receive more extensive—or more passionate— coverage in “A Bystander’s Notes” than the race question. Tourgée delved into every aspect of the unresolved controversy over African Americans’ rightful place in the United States that was still roiling the nation more than twenty years after the Thirteenth Amendment had abolished slavery. He reprobated the tactics being used to disfranchise African Americans in the South, from voter intimidation and fraud to poll taxes, biased literacy “

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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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