An Early Civil Rights Activist from Ohio
Special Collections & Archives holds a strong collection of books by Albion W. Tourgée, thanks to collectors and donors Dean Keller and Albert and Helen Borowitz. Tourgée was born in 1838 and grew up near Kingsfield, Ohio. His college days at the University of Rochester were cut short by lack of funds and then by the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in the 27th New York Volunteer Infantry and was awarded an A.B. degree in absentia in June 1862, a common practice at many universities for students who had enlisted before completing their degrees.
After the war, he returned to Ohio where he married Emma Doiska Kilbourne, his childhood sweetheart. He became a lawyer and moved his young family to North Carolina, where he served in the state legislature and assumed a variety of roles during Reconstruction. He founded the National Citizens’ Rights Association and also Bennett College, a teachers' college for freedmen. He served as a judge from 1868 to 1874. During this period, he confronted the increasingly violent Ku Klux Klan, which was very powerful in his district and had members who repeatedly threatened his life.
Tourgée was also a prolific and successful writer. He published political works in magazines and founded his own magazine, The Continent, in 1881. He also wrote novels, many of which are based on his experiences working for social change during the aftermath of the Civil War.
The novel seen here is his first that was financially successful. A Fool’s Errand: By One of the Fools was published in 1879 and was a bestseller. The story line mirrors Tourgee’s own life. The book follows the main character, Comfort Servosse, as he joins the Civil War on the Union side, returns home after the war, and resolves to move his family to the South. He purchases a decayed plantation called Warrington in Rockford County; the state to which he moves is never identified. In his new home, Servosse almost immediately makes a name for himself as a radical Yankee—or “carpetbagger”—and arouses the hostility of the neighbors in the community. The rest of the story follows his increasing involvement on the behalf of former slaves in the community and his opposition to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
This book was unique among contemporary novels by white men about the South; it presents events from the viewpoints of freedmen and shows how the promises of freedom were narrowed by postwar violence, discrimination, and a lack of federal intervention.
Tourgee, Albion W., 1838-1905, author
Fords, Howard, & Hulbert
Kent State University
Special Collections and Archives
From the library of Albert and Helen Borowitz
|LC Classification Number
PS3087 .F6 1880aa
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Curated by Kathleen Siebert Medicus with guest contributors