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Bishop Henry McNeal Turner: Visionary, Preacher, Prophet

"Bishop Henry M. Turner." Photo Courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections

This exhibit is based on Professor Andre E. Johnson's award-winning article about the role and work of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner in the Colored Conventions movement, focusing on the last convention called by Bishop Turner, the 1893 National Colored Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The exhibit situates Bishop Turner in the Colored Conventions movement as a leader whose deep commitment to the work and value of nineteenth-century Black activism manifested in a variety of venues: convention work, the Black Press, his visionary dedication both to African emigration and reparations, and perhaps most compelling, his signal contribution to the development and articulation of Black theology in his uncompromising explanation of the existence and relevance of a Black, Judeo-Christian “God of the Oppressed.”  

As is true for many African-American founding fathers, statesmen and elders, Bishop McNeal Turner’s impact does not register in American secular histories, including his incredible influence and participation at Colored Conventions. This exhibit engages the work of recovery, reinsertion, and reclamation so central to the work of (Black) historians and archivists. The resounding silences that accompany Bishop Turner’s name are particularly grievous. Bishop Turner’s emigration and reparation work appears to have contributed to a curious muting and erasure that began in his lifetime, but reverberates into the contemporary moment. African emigration is fueled by a deep critique of the potential for American society to offer African Americans equal rights and justice. The contemporary relevance of reparations as a way to force America to recognize and account for its’ failure highlights the radical visionary work, life, and legacy of Bishop McNeal Turner.

Using excerpts from The Christian Recorder, the following pages will demonstrate Bishop Turner’s well established and hard earned reputation as a premier Black leader both within the convention movement and without. This will include a biography of Bishop Turner to introduce the facts of his life and death, major accomplishments both in the AME church, the world of print and politics, and the church. This will also include a network map depicting Turner and the relationships he would have had with the men with whom he attended four national conventions. The men on the network map represent both Colored Convention stalwarts and nationally and internationally known African American activists: Frederick Douglass, George Downing, Sella Martin among others. Bishop Turner was a highly respected leader in the African American community having proven himself as an orator, preacher, writer, activist, and consummate professional. Bishop Turner was the second African American Chaplain in the Armed Forces, an agent for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a State Constitutional delegate and State Representative for Georgia, the first African American Postmaster General in Georgia, newspaper founder, editor and correspondent, and the first southern Bishop in the AME church. The AME Church recognizes Bishop Turner as the fourth and final horseman of the AME church. The Church gives this distinction to four Bishops: Allen, Payne, Quinn, and Turner whose lives are examples of excellence and service that transformed and strengthened the AME church, African American community, and the African diaspora.

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Curators: Denise Burgher, PhD student in English and Committee Chair, the Colored Conventions Project, and Dr. Andre Johnson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Memphis. Created for Dr. P. Gabrielle Foreman's History/English 641 class, Spring 2016.

Edited by Dr. P. Gabrielle Foreman and Sarah Patterson.

Acknowledgements: Samantha de Vera, Simone Austin, Kelli Coles, and Caleb Trotter for further edits, visualization contributions, and technical assistance.  

The Colored Conventions Project proudly partners with national and local teaching partners and student contributors to bring the buried history of nineteenth-century Black political organizing to digital life. 

Special thanks to Accessible Archives and Gale®, part of Cengage Learning, for granting permission to host digital images of newpapers in its database, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers

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References 

[1] The Proceedings of this convention have not been recovered. All references are to newspaper coverage of the event versus recorded minutes.