Autographs, Historic Documents, Vintage Photographs, Fine Art




Albion W. Tourgee advocated for equal political and civil rights for all citizens and is credited with introducing the metaphor of "color-blind" justice into legal discourse: "Justice is pictured as blind and her daughter the Law, ought at least to be color-blind"

"ALBION W. TOURGEE HANDWRITTEN LETTER SIGNED, "Very respectfully, Albion W. Tourgee", 5.5 x 8.5, on his personal letterhead, Denver, Colorado, April 30th, 1880, by American lawyer who championed African-American civil rights who founded the National Citizens' Rights Association and litigated for Homer Plessy in the famous segregation case Plessy v. Ferguson. He was also a best-selling author of several books including his largely autobiographical novel on Reconstruction, A Fool's Errand by One of the Fools (1879) and followed back in 1880 with another best seller, Bricks without Straw. He served as a superior court judge in North Carolina and because of his vigorous promotion of political, legal, and economic reform for blacks, he was the most hated man in the state and was under constant threat from an active Ku Klux klan in his district. He was the founder of the African American school that became Bennett College. In 1897 President McKinley appointed him U.S. consul to France. This letter is to Rev. J. G. Gilbert, Port Richmond, NY, in part: "I have the honor to acknowledge your favor...gladly comply with your request. You know that "misery loves company" and I can conceive of no greater fool than one who proposes to raise money on my name...it won't draw money -- out of a bank at least -- any more than a smoky chimney will draw rations." In fine condition, with age toning, a few stains, and mounting remnants on the reverse that do not show through.

The Plessy v. Ferguson case stemmed from an 1892 incident in which African-American train passenger Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for blacks. Rejecting Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between whites and blacks was not unconstitutional. As a result, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace. After the Compromise of 1877 led to the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, Democrats consolidated control of state legislatures throughout the region, effectively marking the end of Reconstruction. 

Southern blacks saw the promise of equality under the law embodied by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution receding quickly, and a return to disenfranchisement and other disadvantages, as white supremacy reasserted itself across the South. Members of the black community of New Orleans decided to mount a resistance. Homer Adolph Plessy, agreed to be the plaintiff in the case aimed at testing the law’s constitutionality.

On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a ticket on a train from New Orleans bound for Covington, Louisiana, and took a vacant seat in a whites-only car. After refusing to leave the car at the conductor’s insistence, he was arrested, jailed, and convicted by a New Orleans court of violating the 1890 law, Plessy filed a petition against the presiding judge, Hon. John H. Ferguson, claiming that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Then, on May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in Plessy v. Ferguson. In declaring separate-but-equal facilities constitutional on intrastate railroads, the Court ruled that the protections of 14th Amendment applied only to political and civil rights (like voting and jury service), not “social rights” (sitting in the railroad car of your choice). The Plessy v. Ferguson verdict enshrined the doctrine of “separate but equal” as a constitutional justification for segregation, ensuring the survival of the Jim Crow South for the next half-century.

$395   #11432