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.

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