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

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The National Citizens’ Rights Association

There must be a revolution in the Republican party which shall bring to the
front again the idea of personal liberty and the equal rights of the citizen.

—Albion W. Tourgée to Marriott Brosius, 24 January 1891

In January 1891, nine months before founding the National Citizens’ Rights Association, Tourgée took into his confidence a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania and fellow Civil War veteran named Marriott Brosius, with whom he shared the plans he was revolving to “inaugurate” a mass movement. By then, he admitted to Brosius, he could no longer avoid recognizing that “lust of gain” had destroyed the Republican Party’s commitment to racial justice and sapped it of vitality. “The vigor, persistence, determination of the Senate seem to be almost entirely on the other side,” that is, on the side of white supremacist Democrats, observed Tourgée. “They mean business, and will do or sacrifice anything to carry their point.” In contrast, dissension, apathy, and timidity were eating away at the Republicans, whose leaders merely wanted “power” for the sake of controlling the government. “There must be a revolution” in Republican ranks, Tourgée concluded, to “bring to the front again the idea of personal liberty and the equal right of the citizen.” He considered himself ideally suited to inaugurating such a “revolution,” precisely because he was a political outsider with “no future to be harmed and no past to be mended—nothing to fear and nothing to hope for.”1

Tourgée launched the NCRA in his “Bystander” column of 17 October 1891, where he challenged readers to match the “civic instinct” displayed by African Americans of New Orleans. Though “oppressed and impoverished” and “asserted to be incapable of self-government or co-operation,” Tourgée pointed out, these African Americans had managed to collect over $1,400 “by dimes and half-dimes” to “test the constitutionality of the infamous ‘Jim Crow car’ law.” The outcome of their test case would show “whether justice is still color-blind or National citizenship worth a rag for the defense of right or not.” Would the “people of the North” demonstrate their solidarity with their “colored” fellow citizens of the South by joining a “Citizens’ Equal Rights Association”?2 Responses poured in by the thousands, and within less than a year the renamed National Citizens’ Rights Association claimed over 100,000 members, ultimately peaking at 250,000.3 Its ranks encompassed

-149-

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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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