HENRY McNEAL TURNER

HENRY McNEAL TURNER

1834-1915

Henry McNeal Turner was bom the son of free parents in South Carolina. Reportedly, the family’s freedom was granted by British law, which honored African royalty and had freed the African prince from whom the family was descended.

Henry McNeal Turner believed in the rights of all men, and held that they must mold the world in which they lived. He taught him¬ self to read and write by studying with spelling, history and law books, but his main tool was the Bible. Like many leaders before and after him, Turner found a voice that could encourage and com¬ mand. That voice was nurtured by religion.

After his conversion to Chris¬ tianity in 1851, and his subsequent licensing by the white Methodist Episcopal Church, Turner began to preach. During his sermons, he called on men and women to enter into all facets of society alongside white Americans, and he assured them that their voices deserved to be heard: “Thousands of white people in this country are ever and anon advising the colored people to keep out of politics.

If the Negro is a man in keeping with other men, why should he be less concerned about politics than anyone else? Strange too, that a number of would-be colored leaders are ignorant and debased enough to proclaim the same foolish jargon….”

Turner was also an invaluable voice in favor of the reformation of Christianity. Like Absalom Jones and Richard Allen (see no. 6), he supported the idea of an African Methodist Episcopal Church. Preaching for the creation of “a black God,” ‘ Turner forced people to face that even their religion glorified a white man.

Not only did Turner speak about the inte¬ gration of politics and religion, he actively participated in their reformation. He orga¬ nized freed slaves for the Republican Par¬ ty, and was elected a state legislator in 1867, though he was opposed by the new white Democratic legislators, who barred him from assuming his position.

Tumer was a wonderful speaker, and when he brought his case forward, claiming “I shall neither fawn nor cringe before any party, nor stoop to beg them for my rights….! am here to demand my rights….” he was returned to his seat, along with all other African-American legislators who’d been denied their posi¬ tions after election.

After only one term, Turner turned from politics to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and to the position of president of Morris Brown College in Georgia, where he continued to inspire a sense of pride and religious faith in his students.