A Radical Notion of Democracy: Law, Race, and Albion Tourgée, 1865-1905

Friday November 4, 2011 from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM EDT

State Library Building and State Capitol Building, Raleigh, NC

Continuing Legal Education Credit of five hours has been approved.


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


Friday November 4, 2011 from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM EDT

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State Library Building and State Capitol Building, Raleigh, NC 


Book Cover 2 Registration is open for "A Radical Notion of Democracy: Law, Race and Albion Tourgée," a public law and humanities symposium to be held in downtown Raleigh on Nov. 4. The symposium will focus on the life and career of this important nineteenth-century figure, a former Union soldier who settled in Greensboro after the Civil War.

A lawyer, judge, novelist and activist, Tourgée worked for racial equality in the state for thirteen years. His legacy lives on in the provisions of the state Constitution guaranteeing free public education, as well as other reforms. He later 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, to be held in the State Library Building, features keynote lectures by Tourgée biographer Mark Elliott of UNC-Greensboro and historian Blair Kelley of North Carolina State University, as well as two panels featuring other  distinguished scholars of law and history, including Michael Kent Curtis, Book CoverBrook Thomas and Alfred Brophy. The event will conclude in the State Capitol Building with a dramatic reenactment of scenes from the Constitutional Convention of 1868, including a performance by Paul Paliyenko as Tourgée. Cameo roles will be played by North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby and former justice Robert Orr.

The Center for the Study of the American South is organizing the symposium, with major support from the UNC School of Law, the Office of Archives and History/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, Elon University School of Law and the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law. Five hours of CLE credit are available.

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


Archives and History / State Library Building Auditorium

8:30-9:15  -  Coffee and sign-in
  - Welcome and introduction
- Opening keynote address, Mark Elliott
10:30 -12:15
-   Panel 1:

A Fool's Errand? Reconstructing the Narrative of Freedom in North Carolina
: Tourgée’s life as lawyer, judge, public servant, and novelist in Reconstruction North Carolina, 1865-79.
Ann McColl
, moderator/presenter; John David Smith, Frank Woods, Carolyn Karcher, presenters.

12:15-1:30 - Boxed lunches
1:30-3:15  -  Panel 2:

Literature Into Law:  Interrogating Democracy in the Post-Reconstruction Nation
Tourgée as architect of Homer Plessy’s case, as well as the historical reception of his concept of “color-blind” justice.
Al Brophy
, moderator/presenter; Brook Thomas, Michael Curtis, Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr., presenters.

3:30-4:15 p.m. - Closing keynote address, Blair Kelley

4:30-5:00  Sneak preview of “The Story of North Carolina,” Part 2, new permanent exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History, tracing life in North Carolina from the Civil War through the late twentieth century

State Capitol Building 

5:30-6:30 - Constitutional Tales, in House chamber
6:30 - Light reception in Rotunda

Presenters and Panelists

Opening Keynote

Mark Elliott is an associate professor of history at UNC Greensboro.  His book Color-Blind Justice:  Albion Tourgée and the Quest for Racial Equality from the Civil War to Plessy v. Ferguson (Oxford University Press, 2006) won the 2007 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians.  

Panel 1

Ann McColl, attorney and independent scholar, is legislative director for the State Board of Education.  She has been practicing in the field of education law since 1991.  From 2002 to 2009 she served as an associate professor of educational leadership at the UNC-Charlotte College of Education. McColl is the creator of Constitutional Tales, dramatic presentation that brings the Constitutional Convention of 1868 to life.

John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of History at UNC-Charlotte, specializes in the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  With Mark Elliott, Smith has edited a collection of Tourgée’s papers, Undaunted Radical: The Selected Writings and Speeches of Albion W. Tourgée (LSU Press, 2010).  His An Old Creed for the New South:  Proslavery Ideology and Historiography, 1865-1918 (1985) has appeared in three editions.

Frank Woods, visiting assistant professor and former program director, African American Studies Program, UNC-Greensboro.  Woods is the great-grandson of Adaline Patillo Woods, the formerly enslaved adopted daughter of Albion and Emma Tourgée. He combines deep personal knowledge of the Tourgée family with a scholarly understanding of his historical importance, especially to Greensboro’s history.

Carolyn Karcher is professor emerita at Temple University, where she taught English, American Studies, and women’s studies.  She published a scholarly edition of Tourgée’s novel Bricks Without Straw (Duke University Press, 2009).  A recipient of the Great Teacher Award at Temple, she pioneered the creation of a multicultural curriculum in American literature.  She is at work on a book about Tourgée’s relations with African Americans in the 1890s.

Panel 2

Alfred Brophy, Judge John J. Parker Distinguished Professor of Law, UNC-Chapel Hill, writes about the racial history of the American South and its contemporary impact. His books include Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation (Oxford, 2002) and Reparations Pro and Con (Oxford, 2006) and he is completing an expansive study of jurisprudence in the south before the Civil War, tentatively titled University, Court, and Slave.

Brook Thomas is Chancellor’s Professor of English, School of Humanities, University of California-Irvine. He is editor of the casebook Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History With Documents (Bedford, 1997) as well as author of numerous essays on the law and literature of the postwar nineteenth century. His recent essay “The Legal and Literary Complexities of U.S. Citizenship Around 1900,” 22 Cardozo Stud. L. & Lit. 307 (2010), offers a compelling rhetorical approach to Tourgée’s influence on the law.

Michael Kent Curtis, Judge Donald L. Smith Professor in Constitutional and Public Law, Wake Forest University School of Law, is a preeminent constitutional historian and author of No State Shall Abridge: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (Duke University Press, 1986). An expert on the creation and interpretation of the Reconstruction Amendments, he is interested in studying the historical narrowing of their reach through the lens of Tourgée’s advocacy for a broader interpretation.

Judge Robert N. Hunter Jr. has served on the North Carolina Court of Appeals since 2008.  Judge Hunter became interested in Albion Tourgée as part of the Republican Party of North Carolina vs. Martin case which successfully challenged North Carolina's method of electing superior court judges on equal protection grounds.  He has lectured on Albion Tourgée for CLE credit for the NC Bar Association program on election law.  

Closing Keynote

Blair Kelley is an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University.  In Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press, 2010), she examines some of the earliest struggles against Jim Crow, situating Plessy within the rich historical context of a strong, diverse, and determined movement of protest and resistance. The book won the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Award from the Association of Black Women Historians.

Dramatic Performance

Constitutional Tales is a project that brings dramatic reenactments of portions of the Constitutional Convention of 1868 to public audiences, drawing upon original sources. This one-hour performance, to be crafted out of the eight hours of presentation materials created by producer Ann McColl, will emphasize Tourgée’s contributions to the Convention.  The performance will be produced and directed by Paul Paliyenko, who will also play the role of Tourgée.  For more information, see

Organizing Committee

The UNC Center for the American South, a research arm of the Chapel Hill campus, is the region’s premier institution for original research, teaching, and public dialogue on the history, culture, and contemporary experience of the American South. For more information, see

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported  Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives. To learn more, visit

The Center and the Department are grateful to the following individuals for their help in giving shape to the Tourgée symposium:

Afred Brophy, University of North Carolina School of Law
Jeffrey J. Crow, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources
Michael Kent Curtis, Wake Forest University School of Law
Mark Elliott, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Sally Greene, Associate Director, Center for the Study of the American South
Robert N. Hunter Jr., North Carolina Court of Appeals
Blair M. Kelley, Department of History, North Carolina State University
Ann McColl, Independent Scholar
Chris McLean, Symposium Editor, Elon Law Review
John David Smith, Department of History, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Major Sponsors

UNC Center for the Study of the American South
UNC School of Law
Elon University School of Law
North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources
North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law