Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The President and Civil Rights

Henry McNeal Turner on one of the major issues during his time--the passage of the Civil Rights Bill that was debated in Congress. This was his response to President Grant wavering on supporting its passage because Republicans had just lost big in a midterm election. Sounds familiar??

Christian Recorder: November 26, 1874

Mr. Editor: -- I find the following in one of our city papers this morning:

Washington Notes
Washington, November 12. – The President has said, within a few days, to those in his confidence, that he will veto the civil rights bill if it passes the House, where it now is as unfinished business, and still on the speaker’s table. If the President should have the opportunity of vetoing the bill, it is conceded that it would make him popular in the South, and strengthen his chances for a renomination. The management of the bill on the floor of the House will devolve upon General Butler, chairman of the judiciary committee, and who will oppose all amendments. As Mr. Butler is not opposed to a third term, he is the more anxious that the President may have an opportunity of finishing it, but the Conservative element undoubtedly be amended and returned to the Senate and there it will fall for want of time.

I am not only surprised to see the above, but astonished. I cannot believe it is true, yet I fear it savors of too much truth to be pshawed at. That Gen. Grant at one time desired the passage of the Civil Right Bill, I think admits of no doubt, but that he has lost some of his ardor, and grown somewhat indifferent in regard to this all important measure, appears too evident for the colored people to pass the fact by with absolute indifference. And if it is a fact as I apprehensively fear, neither those of us who hold positions under him, nor those who have the simple good of the party at stake, should be silent. With me, there is no party, when my rights are in jeopardy. I think every man should measure his party allegiance, as that party measures out his manhood. Neither should governmental positions play the part of hush money. We all, of the colored people of the United States are wrapped up in that Civil Rights Bill. Its failure is our failure. Its success is our success. Indeed it holds in its grasp our destiny as a race. We stand or fall in that Bill. Should it fail, I shall regard it as the indignant proclamation of heaven, saying arise and depart, for this is not your home. This is a White Man’s Government.  But if it succeeds, then it may be interpreted as the voice of God; saying to the negro, “Awake from your lethargy, and build schools, churches, houses, and prepare to run the race of life where you are. But if President Grant is opposed to its passage, woe be to the whole measure, for congress will never pass it in the face of his objections, merely to give him a horse upon which to ride into democratic favor. And certainly the President could have no object in vetoing the Bill except to cluster around him negro haters, and Democrats. I hope the above is false in toto. I know of nothing in Grant’s administration to indicate such a conclusion. My fears are founded upon what ought to be reliable rumors. Three Republican Congressmen have told the writer, that President Grant was opposed to the Civil Right Bill, but I thought they were manufacturing a ruse, to apologize for their own negligence in not passing it. Then comes a report, that the President remarked a few days after the late election, that the defeat of the Republican Party through the country, was owing to the ‘impracticable and utopian theories of Senator Sumner, as embodied in the Civil Rights Bill.” Now, here comes the article that heads the letter. I know the colored people all over this country, would like to say, “It is impossible for President Grant to have made any such remarks.” But when we take into consideration, the number of our great lights that have gone out, and how many of our once distinguished leaders have deserted us, men too, whom we thought had rather die than to vary from their principles; is it I say, beyond the possibility of the President to do the same? Is it not time at least to feel a deep concern?
But if the President does intend to cast his influence against the bill, he should not do so, upon the plea that the late elections were the result of the pendency of that measure. He knows that question is not new to the American people. The Civil Rights Bill, has been before the country for all of six years. At the last election in ’72. the unanimous verdict of the country was in favor of the passage of that bill; and now to saddle upon it, the evil train of consequences, which have grown out of the other charges brought against the party, is to say, the least unfair. We should not allow men in any position, to shift the entire faults of the Republican Party, and place them upon the shoulders of the civil Rights Bill. Let their fault tear their own burdens.
There are too many white men in the land trying to wash away their sins, in the Civil Rights pool. About ninety-nine out of every hundred when they get the devil in them, and want to run over to the democracy, raise the bowl of the social equality, and charge the Civil Rights Bill with contemplating some fearful evil. These miscreants may throw sand in some people’s eyes but they will fail to divert the attention of God, from their treachery; and hence their reward is before them.
If the President feels that his popularity is waning, let him meet the issue, in some other way than in trying to blame the manhood of my race. What would be our status in this country, if that bill fails? None. Why Sir, the Hindostan Pariah would be Princes compared to us. It would take us hundreds of years to recover the dreadful shock. It would brand every negro in the country with eternal infamy. But it is useless to continue this line of argument. To reduce the whole question into a nut shell: Every man in the country who is opposed to the Civil Rights Bill, is opposed to the colored race, and if President Grant is opposed to its passage, then he is our enemy, yes, the deadly enemy of the colored race. I cannot believe however, the President will go square back upon his record. But as our Washington colored gentry, are quite expert in getting up committees, I think it would be highly advisable in them, to send a committee to interview his Excellency and see where the President stands, and urge upon him to recommend the Bill in his next message. But if they should find, that he is trying to charge the recent defeat of the party upon the Bill, let us at once meet the argument, for thanks to God, we are fully able to do it. I believe that the treachery of the party to the negro, caused the defeat because God is displeased, and not the abstract dependency of the Civil Rights Bill.


Friday, November 2, 2012

A 'New' Chapter from Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's Second Novel Sowing and Reaping

It probably never entered Reverend Henry McNeal Turner's mind that, more than a century after his Christian Recorder publication of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's Sowing and Reaping, readers would have only a fragmented version of that fascinating novel.

On July 13, 1876—only a few weeks into his new role as Publications Manager for the African Methodist Episcopal Church and only four years away from his rise to a bishopric—Turner excitedly took to the columns of the church's weekly newspaper, the Christian Recorder. He bragged that "arrangements have been made with Mrs. F. E. W. Harper for the publication of one of her inimitably written Stories." Turner not only pronounced the tale "superb" but emphasized that it was "a Temperance Story" and was so "thoroughly religious" that "our brethren need not fear to make this announcement even from the pulpit."

Turner and editor Benjamin Tucker Tanner hoped such announcements—made a month before serialization began—would give "time to those who may wish to subscribe and get the first chapters." While Turner was undoubtedly enthusiastic about the content of Sowing and Reaping, its author's name recognition also served as "evidence of the new Manager's intention to strengthen the columns of the RECORDER" and might, in itself, garner new subscribers.

Read the rest here

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Worth to Society of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner

Here is a short biographical sketch written by Robert L. Nelson circa 1936-37 for the WPA Federal Writers'; Project on African American Life in South Carolina.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Book On Henry McNeal Turner

Cole, Jean Lee. Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner. West Virginia University Press, 2012

In a series of columns published in the African American newspaper The Christian Recorder, the young, charismatic preacher Henry McNeal Turner described his experience of the Civil War, first from the perspective of a civilian observer in Washington, D.C., and later, as one of the Union army’s first black chaplains.

In the halls of Congress, Turner witnessed the debates surrounding emancipation and black enlistment. As army chaplain, Turner dodged “grape” and cannon, comforted the sick and wounded, and settled disputes between white southerners and their former slaves. He was dismayed by the destruction left by Sherman’s army in the Carolinas, but buoyed by the bravery displayed by black soldiers in battle. After the war ended, he helped establish churches and schools for the freedmen, who previously had been prohibited from attending either.

Throughout his columns, Turner evinces his firm belief in the absolute equality of blacks with whites, and insists on civil rights for all black citizens. In vivid, detailed prose, laced with a combination of trenchant commentary and self-deprecating humor, Turner established himself as more than an observer: he became a distinctive and authoritative voice for the black community, and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal church. After Reconstruction failed, Turner became disillusioned with the American dream and became a vocal advocate of black emigration to Africa, prefiguring black nationalists such as Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. Here, however, we see Turner’s youthful exuberance and optimism, and his open-eyed wonder at the momentous changes taking place in American society.

Well-known in his day, Turner has been relegated to the fringes of African American history, in large part because neither his views nor the forms in which he expressed them were recognized by either the black or white elite. With an introduction by Jean Lee Cole and a foreword by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Freedom’s Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner restores this important figure to the historical and literary record.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner

by Andre E. Johnson, author of  The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition

I have just returned from the Association of the Society of African American Life and History (ASALH) where I had the opportunity to present work on Bishop Henry McNeal Turner as part of my on going effort to reclaim the prophet voice of Turner. After presenting my paper, “Cry in the Wilderness: (Re) Claiming the Prophetic Voice of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, a person shared her “testimony” of attending Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta, but not knowing who Bishop Turner was. She knew that he was a “black man,” but as she remembered, no one talked about who he was or why people deemed it was important enough to name a school after him. Even upon graduation in 1966 from the school, in which her class presented a bust of Bishop Turner to the school, she and her classmates still did not know who the Bishop was.

As she continued her story, she only discovered who the Bishop was when in Washington DC and wearing a Turner High class reunion shirt, she so happened to walk into a black owned bookstore. Upon entering the store, the owner greeted her by saying, “So you are from Atlanta.” Puzzled, the women asked, “how did he know that?” and he responded, “your shirt, you went to Turner High and the only Turner High school I know is in Atlanta. Yeah, Bishop Turner was a bad man.” The woman looked startled and asked, “So, do you know who this man was?” The owner responded, “of course I do.” The women said that he then begin to offer her a history of the Bishop and to tell her why he was so important.

After “discovering” who Bishop Turner was, the woman continued to share her frustration in trying to find material on him. She looked everywhere for information on Turner but only finding “snippets” of information here and there. One of the reasons she attended our session was because she wanted to hear more about the elusive Bishop that supposedly was so important during his time, yet, she could find only snippets of information. In addition, she also shared with us that she is a member of the AME Church and even at her church; she did not hear much on Bishop Turner.

When she finished, I shared with her and the rest of the audience, (who by the way, was glad that she mentioned not knowing Turner because several others did not either), that this story is not surprising. Since I started to work on Turner, I have heard this story before. For a person whose public career lasted over sixty years; one that took him from working along side enslaved people to Senior Bishop of the AME Church, one whose literary archive is massive, one would have thought much more would have been done on Turner. Therefore, her question to me was a simple one—“why haven’t we heard more of Bishop Turner?”

I believe the answer to that question is three fold. First, while Turner’s literary archive is massive, it has also been scattered. In short, outside of the small collection at the Moorland-Spingarn Library in Washington DC, there is no one place that has a Turner collection or a place that has the “Turner Papers.” I attempt to address this problem by collecting and publishing the writings of Turner titled, The Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner (Mellen Press). I am thankful for Mellen because they were the only publisher interested in publishing everything I found on Turner—a collection of text, as is, and without commentary, so that others who have an interest in Turner could finally read his words. I have completed two volumes already, “An African American Pastor Before and During the American Civil War, Vol. 1 (2010) and the “Chaplain Letters, Vol. 2 (2012). Vol. 3, titled An African American Pastor During Reconstruction is due in 2013.

The second reason I tie to the first—there has not been much in the way of publication about Turner. In short, history just has not been kind to Turner. Unlike his more famous contemporaries, Frederick Douglass, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Ida B. Wells, (who ASALH remembered this year with a plenary), Booker T. Washington and others, works on Turner is scant. So scant in fact, that in our session at ASALH, I rattled off from memory the previous scholarship on Turner.

There also however, may be another reason for the lack of Turner scholarship. As I argued in the “Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition,” near the end of his life, Turner was what I call, a “pessimistic prophet.” While Turner advocated for emigration, he also knew that African Americans were not disposed to go—the ones who could afford it did not want to and the ones who would have gone could not afford to go. Therefore, Turner quickly became the “prophet” to poor and marginalized African Americans and his prophetic venom spewed on everyone—including “middle-class” African Americans who resided in what he called the “safety” of the North. In short, with his prophetic denunciations against America, the church, and African Americans, many people simply became tired of Turner and his chronicling of the abuses of African Americans; especially in the face of African American rhetoric that proclaimed that African Americans were moving forward and doing well just a generation out of slavery.

When Turner died in 1915, the last twenty years of Turner life had been one were he adopted a pessimistic prophetic persona—and quite frankly, no one wanted to hear Turner or remember him as someone to admire. For example, while other African Americans tried to find some hope in the Plessy decision, Turner declared in an editorial, “Sackcloth and Ashes for the Negro.” While other African Americans supported the country in its imperialism campaigns at the end of the nineteenth century, Turner denounced it and said that if any African Americans fight in these wars “they ought to be hung.” While African Americans were still beholden to the Republican Party, took broke ranks in 1900 and supported the Democrat nominee William Jennings Bryan. While other African Americans celebrated the country and the progress African Americans made, Turner constantly and consistently reminded them about the lynchings and mob violence that were still taking place all over the country, called the American flag a dirty and contemptible rag and damned the country to hell (yeah, before Jeremiah Wright).

As I will argue in the follow up book to “Forgotten Prophet” tentatively titled, “Bootlicks, Spittoon Lickers, Scullions, and Fool Negroes: The Pessimistic Prophecy of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner,” Turner's positions and proclamations did not fit the integrationist model that surfaced during this time. Therefore, African Americans and even the AME Church, who Turner embarrassed continually, decided to marginalize his work, writings, and record. However, this should no longer be the case and I invite others to join me in this reclamation project.

The Scholarship on Bishop Henry McNeal Turner

Scholarship on Turner is meager. Outside of brief articles or sketches printed in journals or edited volumes,[1] the first published work on Turner came two years after his death titled, “The Life and Times of Henry McNeal Turner” and written by friend and fellow AME minister Mungo Ponton. This glowing and uncritical “biography” purported to share the life story of Turner “upon the times in which he lived” (23). However, the “biography” was more apologetic in nature as Ponton not only defended the actions of Turner, but also had, as a goal, to protect and promote the AME Church. Ponton hoped that through his work, the story of Turner could “serve as an inspiration to lovers of manhood, home, freedom and life everywhere” (24). 

Despite the uncritical nature of the work and its apparent shortcomings, something that Ponton apologizes for early in the text (24), I believe that dismissing his work is a mistake. It is through Ponton’s work that we learn of Turner’s childhood experiences and get some glimpse of his family life—his call into ministry and some of his early travels. More important for the purposes of this dissertation, Ponton offers testimony from others to the oratorical prowess of Turner. He quotes many of Turner’s contemporaries who give us some impression of what Turner was like as a speaker.

After Ponton’s book, the next treatment of Turner came in 1938 with J. Minton Batten’s “Henry McNeal Turner, Negro BishopExtraordinary.” Drawing from Ponton, Batten offers a biographical sketch of Turner’s career as a pastor, politician, and bishop. However, unlike Ponton, Batten offers historical documentation in the way of speeches, and other writings that support his arguments.

It was not until 1964 that another published article on Turner appeared. Henry M. Turner: Georgia Negro Preacher-PoliticianDuring the Reconstruction Era” by E. Merton Coulter, was an account of Turner’s activities during the early part of Reconstruction. Drawn primarily from sources unfriendly and hostile to African Americans and their concerns, Coulter’s aim was to paint an unflattering picture of Turner’s political activities. As if to sum up his argument for this unflattering view, Coulter writes in the closing of his essay, “if he was the greatest man the Negro race ever produced, then that race had not reached the stage in civilization which has generally been accorded it” (406).[2]

In 1967, Edwin Redkey published “BishopTurner’s African Dream” that focused on Turner’s push for emigration to Africa. In his essay, Redkey, while highlighting Turner’s successes, also puts forth arguments that demonstrate why Turner’s emigration campaign ultimately failed. In addition, Redkey posits a reason for the dearth in Turner scholarship. Redkey argues that because of Turner’s “scathing attacks on American society and upon Negroes who disagreed with his solution to the race problem; few mourned the end of his uncomfortable prodding toward Negro achievement and his perpetual scheming to move Negroes to Africa” (272).

In 1969, Jane Herndon published “Henry McNeal Turner’s African Dream: A Re-Evaluation”. As the title would indicate, this was not a refutation or critique of Redkey’s earlier work. Herndon’s aim is to place Turner within the African American nationalist tradition and refute the charge that the “Negro has docilely accepted his position and that his sole ambition has been to amalgamate into white society” (327). By highlighting Turner’s emigration position and placing Turner within the nationalist tradition, Herndon offers a “re-evaluation” of Turner’s work and represents Turner as a forerunner to Garvey and Dubois and “more recent leaders of the contemporary Negro revolution” in the United States (336). 

The next publication, published in 1971, was “Respect Black: The Speeches and Writingsof Henry McNeal Turner” by Edwin Redkey. Offering a brief biographical sketch at the beginning, this book is the only volume of writings and speeches by Turner and is a valuable source for anyone interested in Turner’s rhetoric.[3]  

In 1973, Josephus R. Coan published “Henry McNeal Turner: A Fearless Prophet of Black Liberation”. Coan’s aim is clear from the outset: he attempts to place Turner within the Black Awareness movement current at the time of publication. Black Awareness Coan writes, “Is a determination to achieve complete liberation of Black Americans from all the forces and movements aimed at degrading and dehumanizing the race” (9). Coan divides his essay in two parts; first, he offers a chronological sketch of Turner’s life and second, he offers an overview of his theology and social ideas.

In 1980, Edwin Redkey published Turner’s Civil War recount of the assault on Fort Fisher in “Rock in the Cradle of Consternation”. In this article, Redkey republishes Turner’s letters to the Christian Recorder detailing the battle and describing the morale of black soldiers. The article is helpful in giving us insight into the mind of black soldiers during the Civil War.

After the 1980’s, there was some renewal of interest in the life and works of Turner. Three edited volumes contain essays about Turner. The first one, published in 1991, entitled “Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century,” contains an article by John Dittmer entitled “The Education of Henry McNeal Turner.” The essay offers a biographical sketch of Turner’s life and offers no new information. The second volume, published in 1999, titled “Black Conservatism: Essay in Intellectual and Political History,” contains an article by Stephen Angell, “Henry McNeal Turner—Conservative? Radical? Or Independent.”  In this essay, Angell argues that Turner does not fit “any single party label or any ideological label.” Therefore what Angell attempts to do is to offer an “accurate…portrayal of [Turner’s] political and ideological commitments throughout his career” (26).

Finally, the third book published in 2004 “Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War,” contains an essay by Edwin Redkey “Henry McNeal Turner: Black Chaplain in the Union Army.”  As the title indicates, Redkey focuses on Turner’s career as a chaplain in the Union Army which, Redkey argues, helped Turner “develop some of the ideas, attitudes, and skills that became manifest in his later career” (336).

In 1992, there was a publication of a full-length biography of Turner by Stephen Ward Angell titled “Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African American Religion in theSouth.” Angell’s work focused primarily on Turner’s extensive church work during antebellum and Post-Bellum periods of American history. 

Also published are books that devote chapters to Turner,[4] articles and essays that feature Turner,[5] as well as master theses’ and dissertations that focus on Turner’s life and work.[6] However, outside of Coan and Pinn who are theologians, the works published on Turner have come primarily from historians or students of history. While these historians have done a wonderful job at unearthing primary sources of Turner’s publications, writings, and speeches, what is utterly surprising is that only two published articles focus on Turner’s rhetoric.

The first one published in 1982, was Melbourne Cummings’ “The Rhetoric of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner.”  Cummings offers a rhetorical biography of Turner that covers the major events in his life that gave rise to his fiery rhetoric. Cummings traced the life of Turner from his childhood “working in the cotton fields alongside slaves” to his failed emigration movement. While she notes Turner’s use of religious rhetoric and makes a connection to contemporary Black Nationalist rhetoric, her primary focus is on Turner’s call for emigration to Africa.

Cummings’ essay differs from her earlier treatment of Turner’s rhetoric in her dissertation entitled “The Rhetoric of Bishop HenryMcNeal Turner, Leading Advocate in the African Emigration Movement,1866-1907.” Focused on Turner’s calls for emigration, Cummings grounds her analysis in Leland Griffin’s social movement model. In addition to Griffin’s model, she also uses Arthur Smith’s (Molefi Asante) agitational strategies of vilification, objectification, mythication, and legitimation to examine Turner’s style. 

The other treatment of Turner’s rhetoric comes from an essay by Richard Leeman, “Speaking as Jeremiah: Henry McNeal Turner’s “IClaim the Rights of a Man” in 2006. It has the distinction of being the only scholarly treatment of a speech delivered by Turner. In the essay, Leeman offers a rhetorical analysis of Turner’s “On the Eligibility of Colored Members to Seats in the Georgia Legislature” (also known as “I Claim the Rights of a Man”) speech, calling it an example of the jeremiad.

Andre E. Johnson is the Dr. James L. Netters Professor of Rhetoric and Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary

[1] See “Bishop H. M. Turner’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary”. A.M.E. Church Review 22 (July 1905), 1-11, Simmons, William J. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive, and Rising. Geo. M. Rewell and Co. Cleveland, 1887, Singleton, R.H. “Bishop Turner, His Birth, Rearing, and Education”. AME Church Review 22 (July 1903), 8-1, Ramsom, Reverdy C. “Bishop Henry McNeal Turner” A.M.E. Church Review. 32 (July 1915).

[2] Coulter was a member of the Dunning School; named after William Archibald Dunning a history professor at Columbia University. Teachers associated with this school of thought promoted a view of history that was unabashedly anti-black and viewed Reconstruction in the most negative terms.
             [3] Until my collection of Turner texts, The Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner: An African American pastor before and During the American Civil war, Vol.1 (2010) and the Chaplain Letters, Vol. 2 (2012). Mellen Press

[4] See Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 especially chapters 2 and 8 by Edwin Redkey; Unafrican Americans: Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Mission especially chapter 5 by Tunde Adeleke.

[5] See “Double Consciousness” in Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalism: Reflections on the Teachings of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner” by Anthony Pinn; Ain’t Gonna Lay My ‘Ligion Down: African American Religion in the South edited by Alonzo Johnson and Paul T. Jersild for Stephen Angell’s “Black Methodist Preachers in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1840-1866”; Returning Home: A Century of African-American Repatriation by Robert Johnson, Jr. especially chapter 12; “Henry McNeal Turner Verses the Tuskegee Machine: Black Leadership in the. Nineteenth Century” by Gregory Mixon; “A Black Minister Befriends the “Unquestioned Father of Civil Rights”: Henry McNeal Turner, Charles Sumner, and the African American Quest for Freedom” by Stephen Ward Angell

[6] See Henry McNeal Turner, Exponent of American “Negritude” by Jane Walker Herndon; The Life of Henry McNeal Turner, 1834 to 1870 by Elbert Martin; Black Nationalism and Theodicy: A Comparison of the Thought of Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Henry McNeal Turner by James Arthur Holmes.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition, by Andre E. Johnson, is a study of the prophetic rhetoric of 19th century African Methodist Episcopal Church bishop Henry McNeal Turner. By locating Turner within the African American prophetic tradition, Johnson examines how Bishop Turner adopted a prophetic persona. As one of America’s earliest black activists and social reformers, Bishop Turner made an indelible mark in American history and left behind an enduring social influence through his speeches, writings, and prophetic addresses. This text offers a definition of prophetic rhetoric and examines the existing genres of prophetic discourse, suggesting that there are other types of prophetic rhetorics, especially within the African American prophetic tradition. In examining these modes of discourses from 1866-1895, this study further examines how Turner’s rhetoric shifted over time. It examines how Turner found a voice to article not only his views and positions, but also in the prophetic tradition, the views of people he claimed to represent. The Forgotten Prophet is a significant contribution to the study of Bishop Turner and the African American prophetic tradition.

Reviews for The Forgotten Prophet: Andre Johnson’s study of the speeches of Henry McNeal Turner, from his optimistic Emancipation Day Address in 1866, to sober reflections on the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation in 1913, is an important step in recovering the story of African-Americans in the South during Reconstruction. Framing Turner’s powerful words as examples of prophetic rhetoric, Johnson shows how even Turner’s most pessimistic comments spoke to a wide audience eager for freedom yet demoralized by prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Although Turner’s answer to the nation’s racism—emigration—did not become a major movement in his lifetime, Johnson’s study of Turner’s prophetic voice enlarges our understanding of this neglected, but important figure in American history.-Sandra J. Sarkela, University of Memphis 

Professor Johnson not only offers a new perspective on Reverend Turner by focusing on the rhetorical dimensions of words, but also suggests new and more precise ways for scholars to study the “prophetic” in the United States. Professor Johnson should be congratulated for offering the first and most nuance study of African American prophetic rhetoric of any black leader.-Edward J. Blum, Co-Author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America 

The critical lens that Dr. Johnson employs—of seeing Turner’s work as an evolution through prophetic stages, not only helps the reader understand Turner’s discourse but significantly enhances our understanding the different prophetic voices available to rhetors-Richard Leeman, author of The Teleological Discourse of Barack Obama

Click here to buy your Copy. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Foreword: Marked For Greatness

Below is the foreword written by Dr. Barbara A. Holmes for the series titled the Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner in Volume 1 (Mellen Press). Dr. Holmes currently serves as President of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

But many of us have now concluded, that the judgment of God will never cease its plagues upon this nation, till slavery and oppression shall be foiled, and right, equity, and justice shall be seen in all its grand regalia, leading on in triumphant conquest the victories of humanity.-Henry McNeal Turner, published August 30, 1862 in the Christian Recorder

What does it mean to have a dream so real and so memorable that it becomes a blueprint for your life despite a thicket of racism and cultural marginalization? As a young boy, The Reverend Dr. Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) had a dream that inspired a life of public service, prophetic leadership, and intellectual inquiry. Raised by teen mother Sarah Turner and Grandmother Hannah Greer, Turner was taught self worth, spiritual acuity and the importance of his cultural heritage.

In dreams, Turner saw himself in a leadership role that seemed impossible to achieve in the segregated south, yet he believed that he was “marked for greatness.” His testimony is not unusual. Throughout history, leaders, martyrs, prophets and queens have dreamed futures that they could not imagine during their waking hours. Sacred texts in many religions describe dream landscapes as spaces where life purposes may be revealed and divine instructions may be given.

As you read the introduction of this volume and Turner’s brief biography, you realize that his emergence as a public intellectual in the midst of the confederacy was nothing short of a miracle. Turner was born a free black man in the South during an era when he had no recourse to the protections of law or the opportunities of a purportedly free society. And so, the dreams began, and an improbable life path unfolded. What emerges from Turner’s writings is that he while he is fulfilling his unique calling; he is also laying a foundation for the flourishing of African American people, as they are merging from the catastrophe of slavery.

The papers reveal that the contributions that Turner made to an evolving liberative consciousness among formerly enslaved African Americans and abolitionists, laid the groundwork for the civil rights initiatives of the mid-twentieth century. Although the Civil Rights movement seems to erupt out of nowhere when Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat, and King and Malcolm X (El Haj Malik El Shabazz) challenge American apartheid, closer analysis reveals the work of predecessors like Turner, who prepared the way, articulated the humanity of besieged people, and prophetically claimed a future.

In addition, the papers of Henry McNeal Turner reveal a renaissance man, who had a vision of what could be achieved with a mix of divine inspiration, intelligence and hard work. His talents were eclectic, wide ranging and too numerous to recount here. From cotton fields, he learns blacksmithing, serves as the first black chaplain of the armed forces, writes for the Christian Recorder, serves as a Postmaster, elected to the Georgia Legislature and elected the first southern Bishop of the AME church.

Turner is tireless and prophetic as he amplifies the voices of the poor, supports an Afro-centric worship style, a “back to Africa” movement, and then declares that if humankind reflects the image of the Creator, then God is also a Negro. Turner has all of the markings of a forerunner, one who sets the stage for the future, who speaks truth to power, and who reframes the moral boundaries of public life for all citizens.

Dr. Andre Johnson’s scholarship on the life, work, and writings of The Henry McNeal Turner recovers an incredibly important aspect of African American history. It is always an important occasion when a scholar goes beyond the study of well known historical figures to re-introduce a leader who lived beyond the limits of current life memories, and whose efforts paved the way for current benefits. The volumes that will follow, document Turner’s contributions to history through his copious writings. Dr Johnson, a rhetorician, theologian, professor and pastor, is uniquely suited to edit volumes that will enhance our understanding of Turner’s work and the political, theological, and legal issues of the antebellum and reconstruction period.

As I read this first compilation, I noted that Turner’s eloquence transcends the span of time, whether he is sermonically chastising those who sleep in church or publicly challenging a vacillating president to support the emancipation of enslaved people. He was equally forthright when he addressed his congregation on its duty in the Civil War as well as when he addressed the North as “mythic Egypt” for its role in the War.

This series marks an important milestone in African American history, and enlightens those of us living in the twenty-first century under the leadership of the first African American President of the United States. Through Turner’s prophetic rhetoric, it becomes apparent that capable leaders of African heritage have emerged in every generation. From the time that African Diaspora people landed on the shores of the Americas, they handled dire circumstances with trickster savvy, the multiple realities of dream language, and prophetic, mystical, and practical traditions. We know the stories of those struggles in part, but the brevity of our own lives and times, and the loss of critical historical resources constricts our knowledge.

Turner’s writings remind us that famous or not, we all stand on the shoulders of ancestors and progenitors. We benefit from their feats of courage and learn from their occasions of human frailty. Their stories chart the path for our future and remind us that we are only responsible for a small segment of the journey toward freedom. It is apparent in this first volume that Henry McNeal Turner was not marked for greatness by unusual divine intervention, he was imbued, as each of us are, with a spark of divinity that he fanned into a lifetime of passionate service to God, country and his people.

The dreams strengthened his resolve, and heightened his spiritual awareness, but he translated the mystical into the practical and never allowed his access to power to separate him from his origins. I am confident that the example of Turner’s extraordinary life will continue to inspire future generations.

Barbara A. Holmes
Professor of Ethics and African American Religious Studies
Memphis Theological Seminary

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Congressional Action:
House of Representatives - September 06, 2000

Mrs. MORELLA. Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 3454) to designate the United States post office located at 451 College Street in Macon, Georgia, as the ``Henry McNeal Turner Post Office.''

The Clerk read as follows:
H.R. 3454

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) DESIGNATION.--The United States post office located at 451 College Street in Macon, Georgia, shall be known and designated as the ``Henry McNeal Turner Post Office''.

(b) REFERENCES.--Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the facility referred to in subsection (a) shall be deemed to be a reference to the ``Henry McNeal Turner Post Office''.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentlewoman from Maryland (Mrs. MORELLA) and the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. CUMMINGS) each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Maryland (Mrs. MORELLA).


Mrs. MORELLA. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks on this legislation.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentlewoman from Maryland?

There was no objection.

Mrs. MORELLA. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, the legislation before us, H.R. 3454, was introduced by our colleague, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. CHAMBLISS). All Members of the House delegation from Georgia have cosponsored this bill.

H.R. 3454 designates the post office located at 451 College Street in Macon, Georgia, as the Henry McNeal Turner Post Office.

There is much to be said about the man honored by this legislation, but I will speak briefly. Henry McNeal Turner was a well-known missionary, pastor, evangelist, church administrator, Army chaplain, author of religious publications, and postmaster.

Turner faced many obstructions in his youth. However, he taught himself to read, and at the age of 19 became a preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1863, he organized the first regiment of African-American troops, and he became the first African-American Army chaplain, and then became a chaplain of the regular troops.

Mr. Turner was appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1867. He was elected to the Georgia State Legislature in 1868 and in 1870. He was appointed postmaster of Macon in 1869. After a year as postmaster, Mr. Turner returned to the State Legislature and founded the Georgia Equal Rights League. He actively championed equal rights, and led mission trips to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Africa.

Madam Speaker, I urge our colleagues to support H.R. 3454, honoring an individual who sought equality for all Americans and for people around the world.

I want to thank the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. CHAMBLISS) for bringing our focus to this great individual, Henry McNeal Turner.

Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. CUMMINGS. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I join the gentlewoman from Maryland (Mrs. MORELLA) in thanking the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. CHAMBLISS) for sponsoring H.R. 3454.

Henry McNeal Turner was a well-known missionary pastor, evangelist, church administrator, Army chaplain, author of religious publications, and postmaster. He taught himself to read, and at the age of 19 he became a preacher in the African-American Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1863, he organized the first regiment of African-American troops. He became the first African-American Army chaplain, and then became a chaplain of the regular troops. He was elected to the Georgia State legislature in 1868.

I guess it is easy for us to say that today, but when we think about the times back in 1868, for an African-American man to be elected to the State legislature is phenomenal.

In 1869 he was appointed Postmaster of Macon, Georgia. He actively championed equal rights, and led missions to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Africa. So we pause here to honor him by naming this post office after him.
Read the rest here


Throughout American history, there have been individuals who have cut out their own paths in life to improve the conditions of themselves or the human race as a whole. Oftentimes these individuals are considered to be heroic so the accolades that are bestowed upon them are immeasurable. What happens when the trail that is blazed by the person is so unfavorable and unfolded that the person becomes an outcast? Such is the case of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. This great African-American dream of establishing an all black nation on the continent of Africa ended mainly to his lack of appeal to the middle class African-American population and financial instability. With that being one of his few setbacks, though this setback was significant to Bishop Turner and his followers, following several historical precedents the question becomes: How does such an extraordinary and accomplished leader get overshadowed in the annals of American history? The research will give several explanations to how such a gross injustice happened to this remarkable figure. The area of focus is centered around Bishop Turner’s lack of support by many of the elite and renowned African-American of his day, Bishop Turner’s increasing insistence on declaring that God was black caused many historians to back away from the leader, and America’ historic preference for chronicling the life of a specific type of African-American leader. Bishop Henry Turner McNeal accomplishments far exceeded his failures. Though his desire for the improvement for African-Americans albeit b abroad, was a testament for his dedication to this improvement. Bishop Turner’s story should be told and canonized like many leaders that have fought of the cause of freedom.
See the rest here

Friday, August 31, 2012

On Ministers of the Gospel

from the Introduction of Africa and African Methodism
by Alfred Lee Ridgel
written by Henry McNeal Turner
March 20, 1896

Ministers of the gospel in the main no longer hunger and thirst for a profound knowledge of the Bible and a thorough familiarity with theological lore. The chief aim is to squeeze by the committees on examination and get to be deacons and elders, regardless of the necessary qualifications to meet the requirements therewith connected. And if they can flaunt a diploma from some third-class institution of learning, they feign to be insulted if a committee should subject them to a reasonable examination; and when once admitted into the ministry, study and protracted meditation cease to be a virtue. A large majority appear to be ignorant of the fact, that true education requires a lifetime of hard study, and that wit, anecdotes, florid sentences and a few rhetorical embellishments are no test of profundity, either in a literary or an intellectual aspect. Thousands of gospel ministers seem to think they can trick and cunning their way to the hearts of the people, or to their attention at least, and finally to a seat in heaven, without half of the proficiency required of a blacksmith, or a carpenter, or in any other mechanical profession, because it involves talk, forgetful that when talk is defective, or trivial and light, that the people will fully realize it and grade their intelligence and ability accordingly. I know of ministers carrying the title of D.D. who will go to bed at the earliest opportunity and lie there till ten and eleven o'clock next day and complain about not having time to read. Such moral sluggards God never intended to be the directors of His people. Ministerial fitness and fidelity call for industry, patience, endurance, invincibility and consecrated devotion, as well as the sacrifice of self, in all the phases that involve the individual himself, or his family and domestic relations. And in as much as his calling is infinitely more lofty than the statesman, the jurist, the warrior, the explorer, the inventor, the discoverer, or any other pursuit or profession of a secular nature, so his sacrifices heroism, adventures and risks should be infinitely more stupendous and mighty, especially so as Christ Jesus our Lord has promised to be with him till the world shall end.

Among the ministry of African descent in the United States, where they are found in the largest numbers outside of Africa proper, profundity, thoroughness, self-abnegation and the spirit of sacrifice, are at a discount that is alarming, especially in the light of divine revelation. Few of the American Africans, or negroes, if you prefer the term, are willing to make any sacrifice in a physical or secular manner for the amelioration of our condition. No one appears to be willing to sacrifice life, money, or even risk any bodily comforts for the betterment of the masses. No self-protecting organizations exist, no secret pass-words, or forms of expression have been agreed upon as a call to rally to each other's defense when the bloody lynchers are doing their work of death and destruction among our people. And even when one would dare to enter a protest against existing evils, they will fly to the North and play the scullion through the day and write a tissue of abuses at night which is of no practical benefit. It is useless, however, to draw a picture of existing things in a material and moral point of view. The American black man is without a single hero. Indeed, the bulk of them have no proper conception of the meaning of the term.

Churchiologically, the same condition of things exists. The only aspiration for fame, honor and immortality that exists to an insignificant exception is at the expense of others. Many of the pastors will build large churches on credit and have their names engraved on the corner-stone, and hasten away for another minister and the congregation to pay the debt. Those who aspire to distinction in the ranks of the ministry, do so almost invariably through the votes of others, seeking to be elected to the Bishopric, or to some general office, instead of aspiring to distinction by writing hymns or learned works on Theology, Astronomy, Geology, Geography, Chemistry, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, or delivering a series of lectures on Ancient History, or delving into the labyrinths of Archaeology and
establishing the claims of nature to the primitive color of man, and showing through it that all men started black and remained so till God said, "Let there be white," just as He said "Let there be light."

No honors conferred can equal those that come through merit, but meritorious honor and distinction are at a low ebb among negro ecclesiastics, because it involves, as we have said before, an amount of labor, patience, self-abnegation and sacrifice, which is foreign to the age, and especially to the American black man.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Turner Supported a "Fair Hearing" of Lincoln's Emigration Proposal

Here is an article from the New York Times Disunion page that highlights Turner's support for a "fair hearing" of President Lincoln's emigration plan in 1862.

Those interested in the history of abolition and racial equality would find few incidents in Lincoln’s presidency as dispiriting as the president’s Aug. 14, 1862, meeting with a delegation of five black men from Washington. It was dispiriting then as well: to the dismay of those hoping the Civil War would lead to full citizenship for African-Americans, Lincoln informed the delegation that “you and we are different races” and proposed that the five men be progenitors of a black colony the government would establish in Chiriquí, a region of what is now Panama.

Historians have debated Lincoln’s remarks and their context for decades. It was once conventional to claim that Lincoln’s proposal was an attempt to appease conservatives while he pursued the policy he truly believed in: a presidential proclamation of emancipation. But the more recent consensus is that Lincoln was speaking very much in character. The “Great Emancipator” was one of the many white Americans of the era who believed that if slavery were abolished, a “race war” would inevitably ensue. Since the United States was destined to be a white nation, emancipation must be accompanied by the emigration of freedpeople out of the United States.

For all the attention to Lincoln’s ideas and motivations, however, there has been very little focus on the delegates’ side of the story. For decades no one even knew who they were, much less what they stood for. Drawing on the work of the historian Benjamin Quarles, many believed that four of the five delegates were uneducated former slaves, hand-picked by Lincoln and his colonization commissioner, James Mitchell, to be pliable and subservient.
Read the rest here

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

God is a Negro

This was the response that Henry McNeal gave in which a newspaper editorial called him demented for saying that God is a Negro.

Voice of Missions, 1898

We have as much right biblically and otherwise to believe that God is a Negro, as you buckra, or white, people have to believe that God‘ is a fine looking, symmetrical and ornamented white man. For the bulk of you, and’ all the fool Negroes of the country, believe that God is white- skinned, blue-eyed, straight-haired, projecting-nosed compressed-lipped and finely-robed white gentleman sitting upon a throne somewhere in the heavens.

Every race of people since time began who have attempted to describe their God by words, or by paintings, or by carvings, or by any other form or figure have conveyed the idea that the God who made them and shaped their destinies was symbolized in themselves, and why should not the Negro believe that he resembles God as much as other people? We do not believe that there is any hope for a race of people who do not believe that they look like God.

Demented though we be, whenever we reach the conclusion that God or even that Jesus Christ, while in the flesh, was a white man, we shall hang our gospel trumpet upon the willow and cease to preach.

We had rather be an atheist and believe in no God or a pantheist and believe that all nature is God, than to believe in the personality of a God and not believe that He is Negro. Blackness is much older than whiteness, for black was here before white, if the Hebrew word, coshach, or chasack, has any meaning. We do not believe in the eternity of matter, but we do believe that chaos floated in infinite darkness or blackness, millions, billions, quintillions and eons of years before God said, “Let there be light,” and that during that time God had no material light Himself and was shrouded in darkness, so far as human comprehension is able to grasp the situation.

Yet we are no stickler as to God‘s color, anyway, but if He has any we should prefer to believe that it is nearer symbolized in the blue sky above us and the blue water of the seas and oceans; but we certainly protest against God being a white man or against God being white at all; abstract as this theme must forever remain while we are in the flesh. This is one of the reasons we favor African emigration, or Negro nationalization, wherever we can find a domain, for as long as we remain among whites, the Negro will believe that the devil is black and that he (the Negro) favors the devil, and that God is white and the (the Negro) bears no resemblance to Him, and the effect of such a sentiment is contemptuous and degrading, and one-half of the Negro race will be trying to get white and the other half will spend their days trying to be white men’s scullions in order to please the whites; and the time they should be giving to the study of such things will dignify and make our race great will be devoted to studying about how unfortunate they are in not being white.

We conclude these remarks by repeating for the information of the Observer what it adjudged us demented for — God is a Negro.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Turner on Voting Rights

Here is the response from Turner and others after the Georgia Legislature expelled all the black representatives from office on September 3, 1868.

From: An African American Pastor During Reconstruction, Vol 3,(Forthcoming, 2013)

To the Colored Voters of Georgia.—the rights guaranteed to us by the constitution of our state, and by the constitution and laws of the United States, have been unlawfully and arbitrarily torn from us by one branch of the General Assembly, a body created and established very largely by our votes, and that at the risk, in many instances, of starvation and death. The Democratic party, having, by refusing the colored members that right to vote, unlawfully obtain a large majority in the House of Representatives, have decided, by a…. resolution, in defiance of the constitution and laws of the United States, and of the state of Georgia, that colored men have no right to represent their race in the General Assembly, and have accordingly ejected them from their seats. By this act they have ignored our rights of citizenship and representation, rights established by the constitution and laws, and recognized by every sound and impartial jurist in the country….. By this act, nearly 100,000 taxed voters of Georgia are deprived of their right of representation, contrary to the cardinal principle of a Republican government. We have good reason to apprehend that this is only the prelude to what we may expect at the hands of the Democratic party; as they neither regard our established rights, as citizens, and electors, or our condition and claims as freemen. In several counties we were advise by those we thought honest Democrats to elect colored representatives rather than loyal white men, while in several other counties not a white Republican could be found, or any white man who would accept the colored nomination; yet we are now censured and expelled for doing the best we could. And what is more astonishing, a number of white representatives, who were professed Republicans at home, since their arrival here have become decided Democrats. In view of this state of things, we call upon the colored men of every county in this state to send delegates to a state convention of colored citizens, to be held in the city of Macon, on the first Tuesday in October, 1868, for the purpose of taking into consideration our condition, and determining upon the best course for the future. There can be no doubt that our personal liberty is in as great danger as our civil and political rights. The same power which would override the constitution in one thing will do it in another. It is, therefore, a solemn duty which every colored man owes to himself, his family, and his country, to maintain his manhood and his right of citizenship. It is our duty to meet and invoke Congressional aid in the security of our rights. Rally, then, rally, colored voters, for your rights, your citizenship, and your personal liberty! Send your delegates with sufficient funds to remain until the business of the convention is completed. Guard against all disturbances, as this is a moral contest, a bloodless battle. Drunkards and fools fight in person; sober and wise men fight with thoughts and words.

As soon as this notice comes to band, begin to get your delegates ready.

H.M. Turner, President C. and P. R. Association. James Porter, Secretary.

Turner Testifying in Congress about Voter Supression

In light of the voting suppression tactics going on right now across the country, we thought we would share some of Henry McNeal Turner's testimony on the subject. Given on November 3, 1871 before a joint select committee of Congress, the session titled "The Condition of Affairs of Georgia during Reconstruction" exposed much. Needless to say, voter suppression is not a new thing.

From: An African American Pastor During Reconstruction: The Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner, Vol 3 (Forthcoming 2013).

They got altogether probably about thirty colored democrats. Well, they would carry them into a room and put a cloak on them, bringing them out and vote them, and then carry them back again and put a high hat on, and bring them out and vote them again; then carry them back and put on a slouch hat and bring them out and vote again. In this way repetition after repetition went on. All the wagoners that came in with cotton and other produce, everybody, whether he belonged there or not, was voted. I am satisfied there were seven or eight hundred illegal votes given there. I do not think there are more than sixteen hundred or seventeen hundred democrats in the county of Bibb, yet on that occasion they polled twenty-seven hundred votes. There may have been some fraudulent votes on our part. We have some twenty-five hundred votes in that county that we know of, and we voted twenty-seven hundred votes at that election. Probably we may have voted some fraudulent votes. There may have been some repeating; they saw the democrats were doing it, and I dare say some of our men did the same. For about three hours before the election closed it was just one repetition, voting everything. I saw seven white men vote twice. They would go up and vote, and then go around and laugh and talk and say that they had voted four times in that way. Long was standing there and witnessing how they were changing the dress of the few democratic negroes they had there; and Fitzpatrick witnessed the same. I could not begin to describe the scene of the last evening for about three hours before the election closed. If we had had a fair election we would have beaten them by five or six hundred votes; but in consequence of not having a fair election we beat them upon the average only about thirty-eight votes. The law of our state says that in the event a contest is made against those claiming the election, the ballot-box can be opened only in the presence of the judge of the superior court, or whatever judge is presiding at that time, and the tickets counted or examined, as the case may be. A few days after the election I was passing down the street, and a white gentleman came up to me and said, “Turner, I will tell you something, but don’t you tell my name.” I said, “What?” He said, “They have got the ballot-box up in that room, [pointing to a building,] and I think it is a damned shame.” I went up stairs to see if it was the fact. When I got to the door, I thought I would knock at first, but I concluded that they would come there and ask what I wanted, and perhaps not let me in. So I pulled open the door and walked right in. There were two men sitting there with their faces toward the fire, another was sitting back in a corner, and the ballot-box was on the table, and the whole table was strewn over with ballots, and there was a man sitting down at a little table writing. They all looked up when I came in, and one of them asked, “What do you want?” I said, “I wanted to see some gentlemen, but I see that they are not here.” I took a good look around, and then went on out about my business. I think probably the notice had been given already that the election would be contested. A few days after that we were summoned to appear and proceed with the contest, and a few days after that we commenced to take evidence. They had parties there who swore that this man was not of age, according to their best knowledge and belief; and that that man and the other was not qualified to vote, for some reason or other; some men would get up and swear that such and such man, whose name appeared on the list, lived in this county or that county or the other county. One man would swear against ten or fifteen names, I suppose. That is the kind of testimony upon which we are now ejected from our seats.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Man Named Turner

From: Africa and African Methodism-Alfred Lee Ridgel, 1896

RT. REV. H. M. TURNER, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D.

We shall not enter into minute details in this brief delineation of the life of Bishop Turner, who is such a familiar character to even the ordinary reader of American history. We do not mean to impress the reader that the history of our subject is confined to the narrow limits of the American continent, for the life, labor, and genius of Bishop Turner has gone forth to help make up the history of the world.

The birth, education, and early history of Bishop Turner has been beautifully given in "Men of Mark," a book written by Dr. W. J. Simmons, of Kentucky. We shall, however, notice the leading events in the life of our distinguished prelate.

First, let us see him as chaplain of the United States army, commissioned by the illustrious Lincoln to go on the field amidst the smoke and fire of contending armies and do service for his country, his God, and his race. Did he shrink, and say, I can't go? No. Such words never fall from the lips of Bishop Turner. He regards no sacrifice too great, no peril too dangerous, no enemy too hostile when duty calls. He has answered to every emergency during his eventful life. The race has found him a leader, indeed. Braver than Douglass, more heroic than Payne, superior to Langston, Bruce, Lynch, and Bassett in intellect and moral courage, he easily takes a place at the head of the race column.

After the brave Union soldiers had whipped the slave-dealing rebels of the South, when four million poor, homeless, ignorant, and depraved negroes were turned loose to die, when the reconstruction period opened, we see Elder Turner, as he was then known, among the first to espouse the cause of his fellow-men, whose wounds were yet bleeding and whose hearts were aching over the very thoughts of the cruel bondage through which they had passed. He was active, brave, and honest as a politician; he was fearless and eloquent on the legislative floor; he made his opponents fear and honor him as but very few men could do.
Second, let us notice Dr. Turner as a preacher, organizer, etc., during the early history of African Methodism in the State of Georgia. He was the leading spirit in all the great movements of the church, he received thousands; forty thousand of members into the connection, erected numbers of places of worship, and is to-day regarded the "founder of African Methodism in Georgia." He was once Presiding Elder for the entire State of Georgia, where to-day we have four Annual Conferences, hundreds of traveling ministers, and thousands of members. Georgia is prolific for African Methodism. As a preacher, Dr. Turner had but few if any equals; as an organizer, he was the very embodiment of success. His whole soul went out for his God, his church, and his race.

Third, we see our subject at Philadelphia, at the head of the "Book Concern," one of the most difficult departments of the connection. Possibly the Christian Recorder was never so extensively circulated as when Dr. Turner was manager. This was mainly due to his prestige and influence throughout the connection. No man in the A. M. E. Church has so great influence over the masses of our church membership and race as Bishop Turner. He says just what he pleases, and everybody rushes to hear what he has to say. He was very successful as manager of our "Book Concern," from which position be was elected to the high, sacred, and responsible office of Bishop, in the city of St. Louis, Mo., May, 1880.

As a Bishop, he is the most interesting man on the bench. Educationally, he is not the superior of Bishops Tanner and Lee; as an orator, he is not the equal of Bishop Ward*, (Bishop Ward, the great orator, passed away June 10, 1894) the most eloquent orator of the church; as a revivalist, he is not the superior of Bishop Grant; but as a parliamentarian, organizer, church extender, writer, lecturer, and author he is in advance of any man within our church circles. More people, white and colored, seek his company, ask for his opinion on church and race issues, than any man of the race. While he is greatly beloved, most sought, most idolized by his friends, he is also the most berated, most criticized, and most hated by his enemies. Bishop Turner, however, has but few enemies among the progressive and race-loving people. His opposition comes from those who are narrow, deceitful, and treacherous.

As an editor, Bishop Turner is first-class. His name at the masthead of an organ is a true signal of success. This fact was more than demonstrated during his editorial management of the Southern Christian Recorder. That paper was rapidly gaining grounds, and was destined to be the great mouth-piece for the Southern division of the church. The late Dr. M. E. Bryant kept the paper prominently before the public until his untimely demise, when alas! it began to wane, and to-day is more of an air-castle than a real church organ.

That wonderful book, "Methodist Polity," alone would immortalize Bishop Turner. It is by far the most valuable production given the church. What book within our church limits met such a warm and universal reception. What publication has brought the same amount of revenue to the church coffers? What book can fill its place? None. "Methodist Polity" is a work that even Bishop Turner's persecutors must bow before and acknowledge its greatness.
We are not unmindful of the other splendid works produced by our ministers, such as "Apology for African Methodism," by the scholarly Bishop Turner; "Digest of Theology," by the erudite Dr. Embry; "Divine Lagos," by the classical Dr. Johnson; "Relation of Baptized Children to the Church," by the profound Dr. Coppin; but even these authors will give Bishop Turner the palm.

One of the most important chapters in the history of Bishop Turner's life was his visit to Africa, and organizing the Sierra Leone and Liberia Annual Conferences. For years the church had manifested a desire to organize work on the shores of our fatherland; as an expression of that desire Rev. J. R. Frederick had been duly commissioned and sent to Sierre Leone to organize there and elsewhere in the country. The late Bishop R. H. Cain (Bishop R. H. Cain was a great man) preparing to visit Africa, but was called from labor to reward before he could execute his desires; hence it was left for him, who had contributed to all the measures of the church to mount the high seas and organize two Annual Conferences in Africa. Bishop Turner's presence in Africa was hailed with shouts of ecstatic joy; his success was a signal one; he at once received one of the ablest men of the Wesleyan Church into our connection, which of itself gave new impetus to the work.

During this episcopal visit Bishop Turner wrote a series of letters which were published in the Christian Recorder. These letters furnished more information on Africa than had ever been known by the church before. His letters at once became famous; men and women, white and black, church members and sinners, all rushed for Bishop Turner's letters. The energetic Dr. Smith, of the S. S. U., compiled and published the entire series in pamphlet form and has sold hundreds and thousands of them.

Bishop Turner is regarded by the English and African people as being the greatest man of the race. This fact was evidenced in part when the Liberia College conferred upon him the degree of D.C.L. The Bishop enjoyed reasonable health during his first African trip. When we consider the immense amount of work that he accomplished with but little help, we are astonished. He was accompanied by Rev. T. R. Geda, who did not survive until the Bishop reached the shores of America.

The organization of African Methodism in Africa constitutes a very important chapter in the history of our great connection and will stand as an ever lasting monument to the memory of Bishop H. M. Turner. We are sorry to note, however, the woeful indifference our church has manifested toward the distant branch of her own planting in Africa. But God who rules the destiny of nations will protect, succor and advance our church in Africa until she can stand alone and take her place among the great denominations of the world.

While Bishop Turner is great in learning; great in heroism; he also has a great big, warm heart that cannot harbor deceit, hatred and kindred sins. A greater humanitarian never breathed the breath of life. He is free from pomposity, self-importance, so peculiar to men of high standing in Church and State. No one need fear to approach Bishop Turner. He accords every right and honor upon those who stubbornly oppose his cause; to crush an unfortunate brother is too small a thing for this great man to do. His hand is always extended toward the weak and fallen. If obedience to the Golden Rule: "Do unto all men as you would have them do unto you," make men great of heart, warm with love, exemplary and noble, Bishop Turner is one of the noblest men of the world. Who will charge Bishop Turner with being despotic, even when despotism might be excusable? Who will dare charge our subject with usurpation, or anything along that line? Instead of being guilty of the foregoing crimes, he is guilty of unmeasured indulgence, often using prayer, patience, advice, exhortation, to save an offending brother, when the discipline would appear to be the only means of adjustment. Along this line of Christian dealings, many have attempted to brand Bishop Turner with recklessness as to the moral interest of the church. Such allegations fall to the ground for want of scriptural support. What man can be too forgiving? Our very nature is revengeful. We crave to retaliate every personal insult, and nothing but God's spirit can control our wicked passions. In these particular graces Bishop Turner seems to have excelled.

Externally, Bishop Turner is a rough man. Unpretentious, always in a hurry, but never leaving before the time; plain of speech, piercing voice, somewhat tremulous; large in stature, presenting at once the appearance of a master intellect, a brave leader, a mighty champion for the right. Short acquaintance, however, does not develop the many admirable elements or graces in the make-up of Bishop Turner. The longer the acquaintance, the more familiar and intimate the life and dealings with this great man, the greater will be the love and reverence for him.

It has been our good pleasure to attend him on three continents--America, England and Africa. He retains
his individuality everywhere. He is strictly himself. I have seen him in America amidst his persecuted race, pouring out an avalanche of denunciations upon those who were guilty of their (his race's) innocent blood. I have seen him amongst the crowned heads of England pleading for the same oppressed people; and whether in negro-hating America, or strolling through the graveyard-like Westminster Abbey, or investigating the mysteries of the British Museum, or trudging beneath the tropical sun of Africa among his heathen brethren, he is the same common, plain, persevering, polemic Bishop Turner.

Bishop Turner is to the A. M. E. Church what Julius Caesar was to the Roman Empire. Caesar carried the Roman ensign where none but him could have carried it. He swung up the brazen eagle where none but Caesar could have defended it. He gave to Rome territory, dominion and wealth as no other man did. Returned to Rome amidst pomp and splendor, to see all that mighty Empire rejoice over his splendid triumphs. But alas! Jealousy, hatred, murder began brewing in the hearts of those who claimed to be his friends, and soon we see mighty Caesar losing his life blood at the foot of Pompey's statue in the Roman Senate, caused by a thrust from the swords of Cassius and Brutus.

But we do not compare the great A. M. E. Church to the wicked Roman Empire; we cannot believe that our good Bishop has such a dreadful foe as Brutus; but we do believe that ere long a mighty host of young African Methodists will arise and vindicate the course of Bishop Turner. Two continents will join in the great acknowledgment of his wonderful deeds--Africa and America. Native Africans with six hundred thousand African Methodists will shout the grand acclaim, Henry McNeal Turner, the dauntless pioneer Bishop, has conquered despite man and devil.

P. S.--Since writing the above Bishop Turner has made his third visit to Africa, looking the very picture of health. He preached and lectured with uncommon power during his stay in Africa. His presence was hailed with extreme delight by all. May God bless and preserve him yet many years to push forward the work of the church.

Graduate Work that focus on Henry McNeal Turner

If you are in grad school and looking for a good figure to examine, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner makes for a good study. As you will note from below, Bishop Turner still lacks the attention of some of his contemporaries.

Works on Turner

The Prophetic Oratory of Henry McNeal Turner /

Author: Johnson, Andre E. Publication: 2008

Dissertation: Thesis (Ph.D)--University of Memphis, 2008.

Black Nationalism and Theodicy : a Comparison of the Thought of Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Henry McNeal Turner /

Author: Holmes, James Arthur. Publication: 1997

Dissertation: Thesis (Th. D.)--Boston University, 1997.

Henry McNeal Turner and black religion in the South, 1865-1900 /

Author: Angell, Stephen Warder. Publication: 1988

Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Vanderbilt University, 1988.

The Black Nationalism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (1860-1900) /

Author: Foster, Toussaint. Publication: 1976

Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.) Queens College. Department of History.

The Life of Henry McNeal Turner, 1834 to 1870 /

Author: Martin, Elbert T.

Publication: [Tallahassee, Fla.] : Martin, 1975

Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)--Florida State University.

The Rhetoric of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, leading advocate in the African emigration movement, 1866-1907 /

Author: Cummings, Melbourne Stenson,

Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of California, Los Angeles, 1972.

Henry McNeal Turner, Exponent of American "Negritude".

Author: Herndon, Jane Walker,

Publication: [Atlanta] 1967

Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)--Georgia State College.

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition

By Andre E. Johnson
 I discovered Bishop Henry McNeal Turner by accident. While starting a seminar class in rhetorical criticism and trying to hone in on a dissertation topic, I ran across a speech delivered by Turner. He delivered the speech on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives as the House debated whether African Americans could hold office in the state of Georgia. I remember reading the speech and wondering if anyone had studied Turner’s rhetoric.
However, there was a problem. Since Turner lived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was my belief that texts to study Turner would be difficult to find. Turner, like many of his contemporaries during this time, spoke extemporaneously—not from notes or prepared texts. Moreover, unlike many other speakers during this time, Turner did not travel with a stenographer—or someone who could have written what Turner said for later publication. Going into my project, I only hoped there were enough texts to do a solid dissertation.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Turner was one of the most prolific writers and speakers during his time and that much of his writings were not lost to history. Turner published copious amounts of material for the newspapers, magazines, and journals of his day. Turner lectured throughout the country and wrote extensively on his travels to Africa. In short, many would consider Turner a public intellectual in today’s definition of the term.
Sadly, many today have not heard of Turner—even within the AME Church. Indeed, it is as if Turner has been lost to history. I found myself always explaining to people who Turner was and why I thought, at least, he was so important. In writing, "The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition," one of my aims is to (re) introduce Turner to contemporary audiences as well as to recover a lost voice within American and African American history.
I do this by locating Turner within the African American prophetic tradition and examining how Turner adopts prophetic personas throughout his career. As one of America’s earliest black activists and social reformers, Bishop Turner made an indelible mark in American history and left behind an enduring social influence through his speeches, writings, and prophetic addresses. This text offers a definition of prophetic rhetoric and examines the existing genres of prophetic discourse, suggesting that there are other types of prophetic rhetorics, especially within the African American prophetic tradition. In examining these modes of discourses from 1866-1895, this study further examines how Turner’s rhetoric shifted over time. It examines how Turner found a voice to article not only his views and positions, but also in the prophetic tradition, the views of people he claimed to represent.
My goal is to demonstrate how Turner’s rhetorical trajectory shifted throughout his career—moving from someone who was optimistic about the prospects of African Americans and America in general immediately after the Civil War, to one who became pessimistic about the prospects of African Americans and America near the end of his life. I do this by offering a close reading of four speech texts of Turner—two early in his career and two later. Each speech text makes up a chapter and my central argument is that Henry McNeal Turner adopted a prophetic persona and used prophetic rhetoric to move, transform, encourage, uplift, and challenge his audiences. In the concluding chapter, I offer a brief examination of Turner’s career after 1895, a summary of my findings, and Turner’s place within the prophetic tradition. It is my hope that in examining Turner by weaving both text and context together for analysis, this exercise will become a springboard for further understanding and study on one of the most important figures in American public address in the nineteenth century.  

Andre E. Johnson is the Dr. James L. Netters Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary. He is currently editing a proposed 12 volume series on the works of Bishop Turner under “The Literary Archive of Henry McNeal Turner.” He is also the editor of the Rhetoric Race and Religion blog and Senior Pastor of Gifts of Life Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee.