Albion Winegar Tourgée Collection
There is a collection of more than 12,000 historical records, preserved by the Chautauqua County Historical Society at the McClurg Museum in Westfield, NY. This collection, referred to as the "Tourgée Papers," contains not just the documentary evidence of the life work of one man, but these records also offer a dramatic documentary of an entire nation in an epoch of American history that continues to be revisited and reinterpreted to this day. The digital collection of "Tourgée Papers" on New York Heritage represents a fraction of the physical collection housed at CCHS.
Albion Tourgée: son of immigrants, college graduate, Civil War veteran, husband, father, lawyer, judge, author, editor, diplomat, and activist. The historical evidence of Tourgée's life and career provides a picture of a man who sincerely believed in and advocated for equal rights for all citizens. His adherence to the "Golden Rule" was a guidepost throughout his life, identifying and combating prejudice and discrimination in political as well as social circumstances. Tourgée was an ardent opponent of the segregationist "Jim Crow" laws that were sweeping across the country, despite the fact that the federal Constitution was now amended to encompass citizens of color. For many Americans – mostly as students - Tourgée's most recognizable contribution is one that most people are unaware of his role in: the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson. The irony of this event is that contrary to Tourgée’s intent, the decision rendered "separate but equal" an acceptable doctrine of American political and social life for the next sixty years.
But perhaps the most important contribution Tourgée made to American history was to collect and preserve all the correspondence he received during his lifetime. The correspondence in this collection does not represent an historic event – it is the event because it encompasses all parts of the country and all individuals living through and being affected by the struggles of a postwar reconstruction of the American nation. The fact that Tourgée saved and passed on these materials tells us that he considered the voice of the people to be the authentic narrators of the struggles to achieve and protect equal rights of American citizenship.
Collection owner: Chautauqua County Historical Society