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Seat of the Crime: Albion Tourgée and the “Invisible Empire” in Orange County

May 6, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Albion Tourgée (1838-1905) was a leading civil rights advocate, a former Union soldier and attorney who came to North Carolina during Reconstruction. In 1868, he was elected superior court judge for the 7th Judicial District, which included Orange County. Tourgée’s career intersects with the 1869 lynchings of Jefferson, Daniel, and Washington Morrow, and the imprisonment of Nelson Morrow. Washington and Nelson Morrow were arrested in August 1869 on dubious charges of arson. As a circuit-riding judge, Tourgée would likely have presided over their trial. A fear of his evenhanded justice may have been a factor motivating KKK vigilantes to preempt the trial by abducting the men from jail.

As a member of North Carolina’s Reconstruction constitutional convention of 1868, Tourgée advocated for many positive rights and reforms–work that resulted in progressive legislation that still stands today. In 1896 he represented Homer Plessy in Plessy v. Ferguson, the opinion that established the “separate but equal” doctrine.

This program is designed to shine a light on Tourgée, connecting his local role as advocate and judge with the full scope of his remarkable career. Keynoting the program will be Deborah-Patrice Hamlin, whose expertise on Tourgée is reflected in the dissertation she wrote under the direction of John Hope Franklin. Other speakers will include Fourth Circuit Judge Jim Wynn, NCCU professor emeritus Freddie Parker, and retired state judge Robert N. Hunter. Moderating their conversation will be Sally Greene. A reception will follow, including a chance to tour the historic courtroom.

Co-sponsoring organizations include the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition and the District Bar of the 18th Judicial District of North Carolina, Orange and Chatham Counties. Dr. Hamlin appears courtesy of the BronzeTone Center for Music and History.



May 6, 2023
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm


Battle Courtroom of the Orange County Courts
106 E Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC 27278 United States
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