Albion Winegar Tourgée was born in rural Williamsfield, Ohio on May 2, 1838, the son
of a Methodist farm family that migrated to the Western Reserve from Massachusetts. His father, Valentine, was a descendant of seventeenth-century French Huguenot immigrants, and his mother, Louise Emma Winegar, was of colonial Swiss ancestry. His mother died when he was five.
He attended schools in Ashtabula County, Ohio. Later he attended high school in Lee, Massachusetts, where he spent two years living with an uncle.
Albion entered the University of Rochester in 1859, but left it in 1861 without attaining a degree. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, he enlisted in the 27th New York Infantry.
|University of Rochester|
|First Battle of Bull Run|
|Battle of Perryville|
After the war, Tourgée and his wife moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he and his wife could live in a warmer climate better suited to his war injuries. While there, he established himself as a lawyer, farmer, and editor, working for the Republican newspaper the Union Registrar.
As a Republican-installed superior court judge from 1868 to 1874, Tourgée confronted the increasingly violent Ku Klux Klan, which was very powerful in his district and repeatedly threatened his life. His judicial circuit was a center of racial conflict and Ku Klux Klan atrocities, including the brutal assassinations of Wyatt Outlaw and John Walter Stephens in Alamance and Caswell counties respectively. Nonetheless, Tourgée also won recognition for his ability, candor, and courage. He was an excellent judge, and his role in reforming the law brought praise.
In 1870, in a letter to Senator Joseph Abbott of North Carolina, he wrote:
Men and women come scarred, mangled, and bruised, and say: "The Ku-Klux came to my house last night and beat me almost to death, and my old woman right smart, and shot into the house, 'bust' the door down, and told me they would kill me if I made complaint;" and the bloody mangled forms attest the truth of their declarations. On being asked if any one knew any of the party it will be ascertained that there was no recognition, or only the most uncertain and doubtful one. In such cases as these nothing can be done by the court. We have not been accustomed to enter them on record. A man of the best standing in Chatham told me that he could count up 200 and upward in that county. In Alamance County, a citizen in conversation one evening enumerated upward of 50 cases which had occurred within his own knowledge, and in one section of the county. He gave it as his opinion that there had been 200 cases in that county. I have no idea that he exceeded the proper estimate. That was six months ago, and I am satisfied that another hundred would not cover the work done in that time.
These crimes have been of every character imaginable. Perhaps the most usual has been the dragging of men and women from their beds, and beating their naked bodies with hickory switches, or as witnesses in an examination the other day said, "sticks" between a "switch" and a "club." From 50 to 100 blows is the usual allowance, sometimes 200 and 300 blows are administered. Occasionally an instrument of torture is owned.
Thus in one case two women, one 74 years old, were taken out, stripped naked, and beaten with a paddle, with several holes bored through it. The paddle was about 30 inches long, 3 or 4 inches wide, and 1/4 of an inch thick, of oak. Their bodies were so bruised and beaten that they were sickening to behold. They were white women and of good character until the younger was seduced, and swore her child to its father. Previous to that and so far as others were concerned her character was good.
Again, there is sometimes a fiendish malignity and cunning displayed in the form and character of the outrages. For instance, a colored man was placed astride of a log, and an iron staple driven through his person into the log. In another case, after a band of them had in turn violated a young negro girl, she was forced into bed with a colored man, their bodies were bound together face to face, and the fire from the hearth piled upon them. The K. K. K. rode off and left them, with shouts of laughter. Of course the bed was soon in flames, and somehow they managed to crawl out, though terribly burned and scarred. The house was burned.
I could give other incidents of cruelty, such as hanging up a boy of nine years old until he was nearly dead, to make him tell where his father was hidden, and beating an old negress of 103 years old with garden pallings because she would not own that she was afraid of the Ku-Klux. But it is unnecessary to go into further detail. In this district I estimate their offenses as follows, in the past ten months: Twelve murders, 9 rapes, 11 arsons, 7 mutilations, ascertained and most of them on record. In some no identification could be made.
And yet the Government sleeps. The poor disarmed nurses of the Republican party-those men by whose ballots the Republican party holds power-who took their lives in their hands when they cast their ballots for U.S. Grant and other officials-all of us who happen to be beyond the pale of the Governmental regard-must be sacrificed, murdered, scourged, mangled, because some contemptible party scheme might be foiled by doing us justice.
I could stand it very well to fight for Uncle Sam, and was never known to refuse an invitation on such an occasion; but this lying down, tied hand and foot with the shackles of the law, to be killed by the very dregs of the rebellion, the scum of the earth, and not allowed either the consolation of fighting or the satisfaction that our "fall" will be noted by the Government, and protection given to others thereby, is somewhat too hard.
I am ashamed of the nation that will let its citizens be slain by scores, and scourged by thousands, and offer no remedy or protection.
I am ashamed of a State which has not sufficient strength to protect its own officers in the discharge of their duties, nor guarantee the safety of any man's domicile throughout its length and breadth.
I am ashamed of a party which, with the reins of power in its hands, has not nerve or decision enough to arm its own adherents, or to protect them from assassinations at the hands of their opponents.
The wholesale slaughter of the war has dulled our Nation's sense of horror at the shedding of blood, and the habit of regarding the South as simply a laboratory, where every demagogue may carry on his reconstructionary experiments at will, and not as an integral party of the Nation itself, has led our Government to shut its eyes to the atrocities of these times.
Unless these evils are speedily remedied, I tell you, General, the Republican party has signed its death warrant. It is a party of cowards or idiots-I don't care which alternative is chosen. The remedy is in our hands, and we are afraid or too dull to bestir ourselves and use it.
But you will tell me that Congress is ready and willing to act if it only knew what to do. Like the old Irish woman it wrings its hands and cries, "O Lawk, O Lawk; if I only knew which way." And yet this same Congress has the control of the militia and can organize its own force in every county in the United States, and arm more or less of it. This same Congress has the undoubted right to guarantee and provide a republican government, and protect every citizen in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as well as the power conferred by the XVth Amendment. And yet we suffer and die in peace and murderers walk abroad with the blood yet fresh upon their garments, unharmed, unquestioned and unchecked.
And now, Abbott, I have but one thing to say to you.
I have very little doubt that I shall be one of the next victims. My steps have been dogged for months, and only a good opportunity has been wanting to secure to me the fate which Stephens has just met, and I speak earnestly upon this matter. I feel that I have a right to do so, and a right to be heard as well, and with this conviction I say to you plainly that any member of Congress who, especially if from the South, does not support, advocate, and urge immediate, active, and thorough measures to put an end to these outrages, and make citizenship a privilege, is a coward, a traitor, or a fool.
The time for action has come, and the man who has now only speeches to make over some Constitutional scarecrow, deserves to be damned.Becoming one of Greensboro's leading citizens, he was active in a variety of community affairs and was a founder of the Negro school that became Bennett College. He promoted industrial and railroad development and conducted one of the region's early wood-turning industries.
Despite ostracism, persecution, and frequent danger, Tourgée proved himself an able and involved citizen of his adopted state, and much in his conduct and achievement demanded respect.
In 1879 he moved to Colorado and an editorial post with the Denver Evening Times.
In 1880 he completed a second Reconstruction novel, Bricks Without Straw.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was a landmark Supreme Court decision, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities under the doctrine of "separate but equal".
The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1 with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan.
After the Supreme Court ruling, the New Orleans Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), which had brought the suit and arranged for Homer Plessy's arrest in order to challenge Louisiana's segregation law, replied, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred.”
He died on May 21, 1905 at the age of 67.
In November 1905, the black Niagara Movement sponsored nationwide memorial services in behalf of "Three Friends of Freedom"—William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Albion W. Tourgée.