The National Citizens' Rights Association [caption title]

[Mayville, NY: The author, probably 1892]. First edition (?). 4to (2) pp. [recto printed double-column]. A statement of the credo and goals of the National Citizens' Rights Association and a call to both African Americans and whites to join. Membership exploded, to 250,000 at its peak, but their fight for equal rights and protection was not sustained. Still, it was a forerunner of the Niagara Movement, which acknowledged Tourgee's achievements alongside those of Garrison and Douglass, and of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, organized in 1909. Rare, we have found no record of another copy (OCLC does locate another broadsheet issued by the organization, a canvassing document for registering new members). Several small breaks in folds in margins, but a very good example of a previously unrecorded foundation document for organizing an organization dedicated to establishing and protecting the Civil Rights of African Americans in the United States, predating the Niagara Movement by a decade. Folded, as for mailing. (8685). Item #61597

A.W. Tourgée (1838-1905), a white civil rights crusader, energetically promoted the organization, first announced in his column, “A Bystander’s Notes,” published in the Inter Ocean (a Chicago Republican newspaper) during October 1891. First called the Citizens’ Equal Rights Association, the name was changed within a year to The National Citizens’ Rights Association (NCRA). Inspired by New Orleans African Americans organized in resistance to segregated rail travel, he envisioned a large membership: “Through this organization he sought to forge African Americans and progressive whites into a united pressure group that could collect and disseminate information about violations of citizens’ rights and thereby influence public opinion, electoral politics, and judicial decisions, [particularly] the case against ‘separate but equal’ transportation that would become known as Plessy v. Ferguson, for which [Tourgée] had volunteered to serve pro bono as the lawyer for the African American plaintiffs.” [Carolyn L. Karcher, “The National Citizen’s Rights Association: Precursor of the NAACP,” in the Elon Law Review (v. 5, no. 107, pp. 107-169)]. In this credo sheet and call to action, Tourgée listed the organization’s “beliefs” about civil rights for all citizens and actions necessary to claim and exercise those rights if denied. He felt whites and blacks must work together to secure these rights for all, regardless of race, influencing government through the power of vocal public opinion. Tourgée had been passionate about such values since his Civil War service, advocating them in his legal work, speeches, columns, and novels, particularly A Fool’s Errand (1879), which sold 150,00 copies within a year and did sway public views. But the failure of Reconstruction saw the quick decline of racial progress and soon a Republican avoidance of the race issue, all but abandoned for big-business issues. Through a large national membership, the NCRA could indeed improve the lives of African Americans suffering criminal abuse throughout the South. He quickly had letters pour in from people who endorsed these tenets, sought membership, and often reported horrible insults, beatings, murders, lynching, and unjustified jailing. In sometimes heart-breaking pleas, many southern blacks implored Tourgée and the organization to protect them. The quick and overwhelming response swept past his 100,000 plan, and soon peaked at about 250,000. But his model proved too loose and too slow. Northern blacks were few, balancing white and black membership proved difficult, a much-needed journal was inadequately financed, and the organization foundered within a few years. Important African American leaders, including Ida B. Wells, Charlotte Forten Grimké, Charles W. Chesnutt, and editors of newspapers, such as Louis A. Martinet (the New Orleans Crusader) and T. Thomas Fortune (New York Age) lent support. In Philadelphia, a leading doctor and community leader, Nathan F. Mossell, called the NCRA, “a reincarnation of the old abolition movement” and “the most important [organization] that has been inaugurated since the war for the benefit of the colored people” [Karcher, p. 125]. Although Tourgée was an ineffective organizer and the NCRA’s life was brief, he was hailed by the founders of the Niagara Movement as “a forerunner” to count with William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. The Niagara effort itself proved a forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909), and the enduring, multi-racial NAACP would make strides, but it took them forty-five years to overturn segregation. This National Citizen’ Rights Association document helped to build that prodigious membership, but no other copy has been identified and all of their publications are scarce. This constitutes a valuable record of the passionate pursuit of equal rights in America by the extraordinary voice of an extraordinary advocate, A.W. Tourgée.

Price: $8,500.00

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