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Forum on Law, Race, and Albion Tourgée - Nov. 4

Elon University School of Law and the Elon Law Review are major sponsors of a jointly presented conference scheduled for Nov. 4 in Raleigh, NC, titled, "A Radical Notion of Democracy: Law, Race, and Albion Tourgée, 1865-1905."

The conference will provide a useful intervention into policy debates that stem from the legacy of Reconstruction. A former Union soldier, Tourgée settled in Greensboro in 1865 in hopes of helping to shape the new post-slavery South.


Friday Nov. 4, 2011 from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm


State Library Building and State Capitol Building - Raleigh, NC

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Continuing Legal Education Credit of five hours has been approved.



A lawyer, judge, novelist, and political activist, Tourgée worked openly for racial equality in the state for thirteen years. His North Carolina legacy lives on in the provisions of our Constitution guaranteeing a free public education, as well as other reforms. Later he achieved national fame for representing Homer Plessy in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court case that established separate-but-equal facilities as the foundation of de jure segregation.

The program will feature keynote lectures and panel discussions by 10 distinguished scholars of law and history.

* Special attention will be devoted to Tourgée’s contributions to the Reconstruction Constitution of 1868, including his commitment to the guarantee of equality in public education.

* The symposium will also consider Tourgée’s national importance as the architect of Homer Plessy’s case: the concept of a “color-blind” Constitution, embraced in the dissent to Plessy v. Ferguson, was Tourgée’s coinage.

Concluding the program will be a performance of Constitutional Tales in the House Chamber of the State Capitol, a live reenactment of scenes from the Constitutional Convention of 1868.

Tourgée’s contemporary relevance is especially evident in contemporary debates on education. The language from North Carolina’s present-day Constitution on which the landmark Leandro opinion rests can be traced directly back to language that Tourgée, the youngest member of the Constitutional Convention of 1868, helped to craft.

As demonstrated by Tourgée’s advocacy for Homer Plessy, he continued to play a strong role in the African American freedom movement after he left North Carolina. On his death, the Niagara Movement honored Tourgée, along with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, as one of its three “friends of freedom.”

Though little remembered over the course of the 20th century, Tourgée is undergoing something of a renaissance today, thanks largely to the work of the scholars participating in this event. Audience members will gain an understanding of Tourgée’s important place within the struggles of several generations of African Americans for civil rights, both in North Carolina and in the nation at large. Such an understanding will provide helpful background to a wide range of contemporary policy debates.


Major sponsors

  • UNC Center for the Study of the American South
  • UNC School of Law
  • Elon University School of Law
  • North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
  • North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law


Sally Greene
The Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Philip Craft,
10/10/2011 10:55 AM