Justice Deferred Symposium

"I don't care a rag for 'the Union as it was.' I want to fight for the Union 'better than it was.'" ~ Albion Tourgée, 1863

The forgotten story of one of America's most courageous civil rights champions came to light in an exhibition and day-long symposium in Chautauqua County, New York, not far from his Mayville home.

Albion Tourgée -- Civil War soldier, best-selling author, journalist, lawyer, and judge -- considered himself a failure in 1896 when he lost the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the nation's first challenge to segregation. Yet 58 years later, in 1954, Tourgée's argument for "color-blind justice" would play a crucial role in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that unanimously ruled "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Throughout his life, Tourgée pressed the nation to live up to its highest ideals. Despite threats from the Ku Klux Klan, he authored the country's first anti-lynching laws, founded the first national civil rights organization with an interracial membership, and published hundreds of editorials denouncing the "black codes" and urging economic, political, and social equality in the post-slavery South. His political novels, A Fool's Errand and Bricks Without Straw, provide extraordinary insights into the Reconstruction Era, American race relations, and the responsibilities that come with citizenship.

The exhibition is drawn from The Albion W. Tourgée Papers, an archive of more than 11,000 items held in trust at the Chautauqua County Historical Society.

Mark Elliott Lecture Audio Podcast

“The Quest for Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the First Civil Rights Movement”
Mark Elliott, Associate Professor of History, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
(mp3 audio, 45 mins.)

Carolyn Karcher Lecture Audio Podcast

“Albion W. Tourgée’s Reconstruction Novels: Promoting Political Change through Literature”
Carolyn L. Karcher, Professor Emerita, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
(mp3 audio, 55 mins.)

Audience Q&A Audio Podcast

Audience Questions and Answers
(mp3 audio, 29 mins.)

Gregory L. Peterson Lecture Audio Podcast

“Justice Deferred: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954)”
Gregory L. Peterson, Esq., Chairman of the Board of Directors, The Robert H. Jackson Center
(mp3 audio, 43 mins.)

Panel Discussion Audio Podcast

“A Page from History: Discovering the Value of Archives”
Panel discussion moderated by Jack Ericson, Curator of Special Collections at SUNY Fredonia (retired), Heidi A. Bamford, Regional Archivist for the New York Documentary Heritage Program; Jon Schmitz, Director of the Chautauqua Institution Oliver Archives; and Joni Blackman, Director of the Fenton History Center.
(mp3 audio, 59 mins)

Video Interviews with Tourgée Scholars

An overview of Tourgée's achievements with images from the collection and insights from Tourgée scholars.

Mark Elliott, Author, Color-Blind Justice: Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality, from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson, Oxford University Press (2006)

Carolyn L. Karcher, Bricks without Straw, A Novel by Albion W. Tourgée, Edited and with an introduction by Carolyn L. Karcher, Duke University Press (March 2009)

Video - 12 minutes

Exhibition Guide

Download Exhibition Guide (PDF)

Event Photos Slideshow

Event Sponsors

The symposium, exhibit and web content are made possible by generous support from the New York Council for the Humanities, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation; Fairpoint Communications; and Chautauqua County Historical Society benefactors.

For more information:
The Chautauqua County Historical Society
P.O. Box 7, Westfield, NY 14787