The National Citizens Rights Association and “The Basis”: Mobilizing Support


Tourgee decided it was time to fight the fires of prejudice on multiple fronts. In 1891, he became involved in the Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law organizing in New Orleans, Louisiana and, he launched a nationwide drive to organize the National Citizens Rights Association. Through his column in the Inter Ocean and other media channels, Tourgee helped promote and inform people of the organized movement to test the Jim Crow laws in the South and, informed them of the opportunity to join the NCRA with the aim of mobilizing all US citizens to add their names to the roll of supporters taking down the laws and social practices of segregation. In an undated handwritten draft Tourgee outlines his thoughts on the genesis and goals of the NCRA,

“…Ever since 1877, I have been waiting for somebody to do something. I have written, talked, begged, somebody else to go on and do what it seemed to me as plain as the nose on a man’s face must be done if incalculable evils are to be averted.

Many promised; some tried; there were meetings and speeches, prayers and tears, wind enough to make a cyclone and clergymen enough to move a gate post were elicited.

Results, a very good spirit but no tangible form. I started the “Jim Crow Car” matter through the Bystander’s Notes, I found the colored people only needed plain honest talk and simple machinery. Accident led to the start of the NCRA…It has numbers who are its life…Its aim is a simple one: to find how many there are who believe in liberty, justice and equality of right…Everything is voluntary…It makes no drain on time or purse for meetings or parades…A man may belong to it and no one knows it except at headquarters (a great consolation at the South)…If we can get as many as it required soldiers to put down the rebellion, the National citizen will have his rights and the Negro problem will be settled.

How will it be done? Certainly without any considerable bloodshed.

By what method? By applying the moral force of some millions of enrolled freemen to individuals, to parties, to Representatives, to officials, to the world…

Put 2,000,000 Northern freemen in front of Southern prejudice demanding justice and a million colored men who know they have friends behind it, and the South will listen …very quickly

Let 2,000,000 even 1,000,000 enrolled Northern voters demand a protected citizenship and they will get it. Parties pay heed to demonstrable facts…At present, therefore, every energy should be bent to extending the numbers of the organization. Every member is a committee of One…

One thing is certain; the colored man can do nothing alone. No one should ask or expect him to. If he keeps up his own end of such a movement he does well – very well. Thus far he has felt that he had no friends, This gives him some – reliable ones.

Another thing should be evident: As soon as you make this a matter of meetings, speeches talk and clamor, you have dissension between black and white, factions and envy. Leave the matter…and they will all stand together…

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Letter, Albion Winegar Tourgée to unknown, undated, page 4. Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society.

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