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African Americans Incapable of Testifying in Court

Albion Tourgee’s work in three of his novels in the late 19th century truly highlight and examine the widely held belief by white southerners that even if they were taken out of servitude, African Americans should still not be granted rights which were given inherently to Caucasian men in the Constitution. To a certain degree, individuals believed that African Americans were simply unsuited to be given even the most minimal of civil liberties. One example Tourgee delved deeply in was their inability to testify in courts. In A Fool’s Errand, he describes a fictional account of a southern perspective on the idea that this might become a right allowed to African Americans.  “‘What!’ said one of the speakers, ‘allow a nigger to testify! allow him to swear away your rights and mine! Never! We have been outraged and insulted! Our best men have been put under a ban; but we have not got so low as to submit to that yet. Our rights are too sacred to be put at the mercy of nigger perjurers!’” (Item 584) The punctuation and short sentences that the author utilizes help the reader to understand how personally these men took any potential of freedmen to obtain rights. The feeling of superiority by the white male is also prevalent in this statement. This man suggests that if freedmen are allowed to testify in courts, they will take away the rights of white men. Essentially, the individual is postulating that African Americans might do just as the white men have done to them for decades. In this way, Tourgee also sheds light on the fact that white southerners were fully opposed to any way in which African Americans could be assimilated into their society or legal system. “It was done, too, in the face of the fact that within the preceding twelvemonth the white people of the South, by their representatives in the various Legislatures of the Johnsonian period, had absolutely refused to recognize this equality, even in the slightest matters, by refusing to allow the colored people to testify in courts of justice against white men” (Item 585). Through this, Tourgee points to the paranoia held by white southerners that if freedmen were given power in even minuscule ways it might escalate into much larger civil rights such as the ability to vote for political matters.