Before Garvey! Henry McNeal Turner and the Fight for Reparations, Emigration and Black Rights
This exhibit offers a view of some of the many facets of Turner’s life—his role as a Black chaplain during the Civil War and as a Republican party organizer, a postmaster, and an AME bishop.
How does the span of Turner’s life and activism complicate terms we commonly attach to Black leaders, such as “abolitionist,” “antebellum,” “postbellum,” and “religious activist”? Consider this timeline of the events in Turner’s life.
As the exhibit page “Black Women Preachers” shows, Black women preachers such as Amanda Berry Smith, Juliann Jane Tillman, Mary Harden, and Sarah Ann Copeland Hughes challenged the religious establishments to which they belonged and fought to be ordained. Explain the significance of acknowledging Black women preachers’ work.
Where and how do they fit in within the long trajectory of Black feminist thought? How do you think they influenced Turner?
This exhibit offers a map tracking Turner’s travels from the 1860s to the 1890s.
How does this visual representation of Turner’s travels help us understand the breadth of his influence and work? How can we further improve this map?
Andre E. Johnson and the exhibit curator Denise Burgher show that Turner was an ardent proponent of the Colored Conventions movement and urged that conventions be continued even when other Black leaders no longer felt they were needed; As Johnson points out, in an 1883 newspaper article, Turner argued that
“‘…it was a great mistake to abolish colored conventions, if it was done at the bidding of Mr. (Frederick) Douglas, that prince of Negroes. A national colored convention has been greatly needed for the last several years. If the Northern Negro is satisfied with matters and things, we of the South are far from being. Indeed I have been thinking of calling one for the last twelve months; not political but a civil and moral convention.’”1
Note that throughout most of his life (see the timeline of events in his life), Turner lived in the American South while Douglass in the North.
What do you make of the regional differences that divided Black leaders? How does Turner frame this difference and seek to represent the needs and wants of African Americans in the South?
1 Andre E. Johnson, “Further Silence upon Our Part Would be an Outrage: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the Colored Conventions Movement,” The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century, eds P. Gabrielle Foreman, Jim Casey, and Sarah Lynn Paterson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 306.
Having witnessed the gains of Reconstruction and Republicans’ subsequent abandonment of equal rights and protections for African Americans in the South, Turner decried and condemned lynchings, seeing how the government turned a blind eye toward—and even complicit in—white terrorism. His “solutions” emerged before Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign, begun in 1892, had exposed that interracial rape was a mythology created to foment anti-Black extra-judicial killings.
How does Turner’s support for emigration and reparations fit within his larger critique of the nation? Start by considering this timeline on debates about emigration as you craft an answer.
The map of newspaper coverage of the 1893 national convention shows that no less than 60 newspapers from every region of the U.S. published an article about Turner’s convention.
What are the major themes that different newspapers emphasize? What do you think accounts for such wide coverage from so many papers across regions? Why do you think there was so much newspaper coverage of this issue as we see in the data visualization that Samantha de Vera created? What insights can we glean from this map, considering that African Americans formed reading communities and groups as portrayed in the image below?
If your class were to create/hold a convention today, what issues would be its focus? Write a convention call that outlines the convention’s objectives, urgent issues at hand, and the active measures delegates and attendees would need to consider, discuss, and plan. Write a comprehensive call and brief version of it (see separate tabs). Prepare to address the following questions:
1) How would your convention be organized?
2) What organizations and which leaders would be invited? Who are the non-famous people who would need to be there and from what communities/entities would they draw? Consider how an unprecedented number of Black women participated in the 1854 Emigration Convention and how their presence informed the issues that were discussed and the resolutions that were passed.
3) What objectives do you think most attendees would agree on?
4) What major differences in approaches do you think delegates might have?
5) How do you think it would be covered by the press?
From the Colored Conventions Project’s Digital Records – view
A CALL FOR A CONVENTION OF THE COLORED INHABITANTS OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK.
Fellow Citizens, – We issue this call, to invite you to attend a State Convention , to be held in the city of Albany on Tuesday, the 18th day of August next.
The primary object we have in inviting you to assemble is, to take in to consideration the political condition of our people in this State, and to adopt such measures as can be simultaneously carried out by our brethren, in every section of the State, to obtain a relief from those political disabilities under which we labor.
The principal legal disability which affects us is, our deprivation of the free exercise, in common with other men, of the elective franchise. A free suffrage is the basis of a free government, the safe-guard of a free people, the strength of the strong, the defence of the weak, a powerful auxiliary to respectability, wealth and usefulness; – and just in proportion as men are deprived of this, they are shorn of their strength, and are subject to poverty, disgrace, and abuse.
We are convinced, fellow citizens, that not only our political, but our depressed condition in all other respects in the State, owes itself, not in the least sense, to the fact that we are politically weak, not possessing the unrestricted use of the elective franchise. The body politic see in us, therefore, no favors to court, and nothing to fear. It is to them a matter of no concern, what may be the abuses we suffer, or how unhappy our condition.
You are aware, that while other citizens have a free and unrestricted use of the elective franchise, a property qualification is required on our part, in order for us to exercise this right, so important to a free people, and without which, a man cannot be considered, in a democratic sense, a freeman. This invidious requisition to the exercise of a birth-right privilege, weakens our standing as citizens of the State, and subjects us to all consequent inconveniences. It also degrades our population, because it virtually lowers us in the scale of humanity, and reflects disparagingly upon our character. To seek a removal of this radical evil, is the object of calling you together in convention .
There has been no time so favorable for us to meet for the above object, as the present season. There is evidently a redeeming spirit abroad in our State – an increasing disposition to stand by, and defend the weak against the strong, as the noble acts of the Legislature regarding our protection as citizens, clearly indicate. Ought we not, then, to avail ourselves of this favorable indication, and come together to take some decisive measures to lay before the next Legislature our grievances, with a view to produce further action on their part, for our political disenthralment?
To facilitate the business of the convention , it will be necessary that statements setting forth the legal and other disabilities of our people in different parts of the state, be presented at the Convention . To further this object, we invite all who expect to be present, to collect such statements, and also statistical accounts of the property, real and personal, public buildings, with their value, &c., owned by our people, and the condition of the people in morals, as compared with former times.
We therefore urge upon colored men in all sections of the State – men in all circumstances – if you possess self-respect – if you love liberty – if you appreciate your own rights – if you wish for political and moral elevation – if you have any interest in the prosperity of our people – if you have any regard for the welfare of your children – for the welfare of the State and of the Nation, to assemble at Albany on the 18th of August next.
We call upon the farmer to leave for a while his harvesting, and repair to the assemblage of his brethren. Let the mechanic leave his workshop, to share the toils of a general council. Let the laborer and the workingman be seen crowding the avenues that lead to the place of assemblage. Let every portion of our great and growing State, where lives a single object of oppression, be represented. We call upon the people in every city, town and village to represent themselves in that Convention . Let the aged and the youth – all – all – be found at the above place, on that day. Come up, fellow citizens, from Suffolk to Erie, from Clinton to Steuben, and let us engage together in a common interest.
NEW YORK CITY – Chas. B. Ray, Theo. S. Wright, John J. Zaille, Chas. L. Reason, Timothy Seaman, Wm. P. Johnson, Philip A. Bell, Henry Stoughtenburgh, D. Elston, Thomas Downing, Thos. S. Sidney, Frederick Olney, P.H. Reason, Z.S. Barbary, T. Van Rensalaer, Pres. of the Long Island Convention .
BROOKLYN – Augustus Washington.
JAMAICA – S.V. Berry, Wm. Ranty.
FLUSHING – Aaron Wood, Rev. Mr. Moore.
KINGSTON – Wm. Hansbrouck,
ALBANY – Rev. J.T. Raymond. R. Thompson, Jr.
TROY – W. Rich, Henry H. Garnett, A. Theuay, Jacob Brown, Wm. S. Baltimore, Geo. B. Morton, Marshall Jones.
GENEVA – Rev. John Niles, J.W. Duffin.
ROCHESTER – Rev. Thomas James, W.L. Brown.
BATH – Rev. John Tappan.
COMMITTEE OF CORRESPONDENCE.
The committee take the liberty to appoint the following persons, as a committee of correspondence, and to adopt such measures in their own city and town, as will further the object of the convention . If they are not willing to serve, they will please address a note to the chairman of the committee, (post paid none other will be taken from the office) to that effect. If no reply is made we shall regard it as accepting the appointment, and also as consenting to have their names attached to the call for the convention . We shall wait a few weeks for a reply,
NEWBURGH – C. Payne, I. Allen, J. Ray, T. Kendall.
POUGHKEEPSIE – J. Gray, M. Francis, U. Boston, H. Johnson.
KINGSTON – T. Harley, W. Hasbrouck.
CATTSKILL – M. Cross.
HUDSON – W. Van Alstine.
ALBANY – Rev. J.T. Raymond, R. Thompson, Mr. Pogue, Top & Van Vrankin, C. Morton.
TROY – Wm. Rich, A. Theuay, G. Baltimore.
WEST TROY – Wm. Stewart, Wm. King.
SCHENACTADY – R.P.G. Wright, Thomas Jackson, F. Thompson, John Wendall, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Dana.
UTICA – G.L. Brown, James Fountain, B.S. Anderson, Peter Freeman, R. Paul.
WHITSBOROUGH – J.W. Logan, E.P. Rogers, J.M. Brickers.
LITTLE FALLS – Wm. Jackson.
NEW HARTFORD – R. Wells, Mr. Brewster.
SYRACUSE – Rev. Mr. Chester, P. Jackson, Wm. Jenkins, A. Dunbar.
OSWEGO – T.E. Grant, D. Pease.
VOLNEY – Silas Slater, Mr. Slater.
GENEVA – J.W. Duffin, J. Bland, A. Freeman, S. Condall.
CANANDAIGUA – D.H. Ray, R. Valintine.
PALMYRA – P.B. Lee.
ITHACA – H. Jackson.
BATH – E.L. Platt, Rev. J. Tappan.
ELMYRA – Wm. Johnson.
ROCHESTER – A. Stewart, J. Brown, W.L. Brown, A. Williams, J.H. Bishop.
LEROY – O. Wood.
LOCKPORT – Wm. Brumley, Geo. Miller, W. Miles, J. Morgan, J. Robinson.,
BUFFALO – A.H. Francis, J.L. Lincheum, J. Garritt, J. Walker, P. Harris, H. Hawkins, B. Lincheum, Geo. Ware, Wm. Qualls.
SACKETTS HARBOR – Julias Ferrill.
FISHKILL – A. Adkins.
Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the State of New York (1840 : Albany, NY), “A Call for a Convention of the Colored Inhabitants of the State of New York,” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/596.
From the Colored Conventions Project’s Digital Records – view
Colored Convention. Bishop Turner of Atlanta Calls the Meeting to Order in Cincinnati.
“Colored Convention. Bishop Turner of Atlanta Calls the Meeting to Order in Cincinnati.,” Colored Conventions Project Digital Records, https://omeka.coloredconventions.org/items/show/1656.
This teaching guide was created in spring 2021 by Samantha de Vera in collaboration with P. Gabrielle Foreman.
Cuffee, Sallie M. “Reconstructing Subversive Moral Discourses in the Spiritual Autobiographies of Nineteenth-Century African American Preaching Women.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 32, no. 2 (2016): 45-62.
Johnson, Andre E. No Future in This Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2020.
Peterson, Carla L. Doers of the Word: African-American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880). New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Sanderfer, Selena. “Tennessee’s Black Postwar Emigration Movements, 1866—1880.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 73, no. 4 (2014): 254-79.