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.