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

By Carolyn L. Karcher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The View from Abroad

[The] last few days have been marked by a revival of that most dangerous and
horrible feature of American life, a display of race antagonism at the South.…

… I confess that I am quite unable to advise in regard to the steps necessary
or desirable to ameliorate the present condition.… It has so cankered the
political and moral sentiment of the American people, that no organized
resistance to it is possible.… I have no doubt that [God] will sometime take it
in hand, and it is quite possible that the American Republic may pay the price of
its own injustice, by finding in the Race Problem the end of its liberties and the
destruction of its organic character.

—Albion W. Tourgée to President William McKinley, 23 November 1898

Writing to President McKinley in response to news of the November 1898 white supremacist coup in Wilmington, North Carolina—during which Democrats, who had lost the election to a biracial Fusion coalition of Republicans and Populists, toppled the government, drove thousands of African Americans out of the city, and massacred an undetermined number—Tourgée struck a markedly different tone than he had in January 1894, when he had exhorted then-governor McKinley to throw his weight behind an antilynching law in Ohio.1 The dramatic contrast between these two letters reflects the crisis Tourgée underwent in the wake of the Plessy debacle. No other political defeat—not even the overthrow of Reconstruction—shook him more profoundly than the Supreme Court’s sanctioning of what he called “legalized caste, based on race and color.”2 Although Tourgée never retreated either from his contemptuous denunciation of the Plessy verdict or from his passionate commitment to the ideal of racial equality, he could no longer discern a feasible method of combating white racism, as he admitted ruefully to McKinley. The disastrous outcome of the constitutional challenge in which he had invested five years of agitation through the National Citizens’ Rights Association, the “Bystander,” and the Basis, as well as through the brief he submitted to the Supreme Court, left Tourgée in dire straits. Amid a national mood of indifference to race matters, exacerbated by an economic downturn, publishers and editors rejected his manuscripts, and Tourgée’s lecture invitations dwindled to a trickle, cutting off his only sources of

-294-

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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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