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

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Representing People of Color and
Challenging Jim Crow in the Plessy Case

The revival of interest in the Jim Crow car matter is owing to you more than
to any one else.… We are not, however, without having some obstacles to
surmount among those who should help, as you will see by the Crusader, but
we are going ahead.

—Louis A. Martinet to Albion W. Tourgée, 5 October 1891

Why did Louis A. Martinet say in his first extant letter to Tourgée, dated 5 October 1891, “the revival of interest in the Jim Crow car matter is owing to you more than to any one else”?1 Answering that question necessitates delving into the back story of the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Martinet used the word “revival” because the “Jim Crow car matter” had actually begun a year and a half earlier, in the summer of 1890, when white supremacists and people of color in Louisiana had faced off in a struggle over segregated train travel. Outraged by the “separate car bill” pending in the state legislature, which required “all railway companies … to provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races,” Martinet had mobilized opposition to it through the Crusader. He had also coauthored an official protest against such “caste” or “class legislation,” addressed to the legislature and signed by seventeen members of the American Citizens’ Equal Rights Association, an organization he had helped found. Employing language and arguments Tourgée would later echo in his brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ACERA protest branded the measure “unconstitutional, un-American, unjust, dangerous and against sound public policy”; invoked the Golden Rule; pleaded against “unreasonable prejudice”; criticized as “problematical” theories about the “ethnical origin of color”; and emphasized (based on the Fourteenth Amendment) that “citizenship is national and has no color.”2 Besides acting as the opposition’s chief spokesman, Martinet had strategized with the eighteen African American legislators, lobbied their white colleagues, and appealed to the governor to veto the bill. He remained undaunted by defeat. Proposing two new means of continuing the battle against Jim Crow, Martinet urged African Americans to boycott the railways (as his associate Rodolphe L. Desdunes suggested) and to start contributing

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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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