by Andre E. Johnson
Director: The Henry McNeal Turner Project

I discovered 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 though 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. 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. This is why this site exists. It is our intent to recover a lost voice within American and African American history. Henry McNeal Turner deserves recognition and it is our fervent hope that this site begins to serve that purpose.

Bishop Turner’s Views: March 27, 1890

Bishop Turner’s Views

Open Letter to Hon. B.K. Bruce

Christian Recorder: March 27, 1890

SIR: While passing through Washington, D. C., on the evening of the 28th ult., from my home in Atlanta, Ga., I chanced to purchase a copy of the Evening Star, and very soon my attention was arrested by the headline. “Bruce on the Race Issue.” Waiving all considerations of personal friendship which was existed between us for many years, and even admiration upon my part for your personal worth and exalted bearing, your past and present status as a high national functionary entitled your opinions and views to more than ordinary attention. But owing to the Episcopal duties and responsibilities which were then awaiting my presence in some of the Eastern States, I slipped the paper into my grip sack, and have just found time to read the sentiments expressed by you to the reporter.

I am sure you are too generous to regard a dissimilarity of views as an affront, though the writer be less distinguished than yourself. Nevertheless, you may remember telling me some years ago that Senators and Bishops were equals. Therefore, presuming upon your won postulations, I venture upon the quicksand of some meager adverse criticisms of a few of your assertions, as they were reported by the representative of the Evening Star, which I hope will be received as kindly as given by the writer.

You say, “What nonsense all this talk about sending all the blacks back to Africa is.” True, you are right, if such a nefarious scheme is in contemplation, for thousands and hundreds of thousands of us are no more fit to go back to Africa than we are fit to go to Paradise. Thousands of us would be a curse to the continent, especially that portion of us who have no faith in the Negro, or his possibilities or even his future possibilities, who worship white gods, who would rather be a white dog on earth than a black cherub in heaven, who are fools enough to believe the devil is black, and therefore that all who are black are consanguineously related to him; ignorant black preachers who will stand up in the pulpit and represent this and that species of crime and vice as being as black as sin; and still another portion of us, who will study for years in college and even graduate, to follow the high calling of a waiter or a bootblack, as though classic lore was a prerequisite to such an exalted occupation; who had rather be a white man’s scullion than a black man’s prince, who regard Africa as being next door to hades, while it is the richest continent under heaven. And still another class of us, who, will work as hard to dissuade young ministers from going with the gospel to the land of our progenitors as if they were going to leap over a fatal precipice; who pretend to be serving God, and have no aim higher than to get to heaven to be white; who profess faith in a bodily resurrection from the dead, and yet expect that resurrected and glorified body to be white; that class of us who would rather go forty miles to hear a white ass bray than a hundred yards to hear a black seraph sing; that portion of our race who will sit in the presence of their beautiful daughters and babble about the solution of the Negro problem being the admixture and intermixture of the races, while Senator Ingalls thunders from the Senate of the nation that there never can be any assimilation and proclaims it blood poison, a term never dreamed of by the pro-slavery advocates, but which, coming from that source, clinches every law now existing which forbids intermarriage between the two races, and will be the product of others not yet enacted. I take no issue with Mr. Ingalls, however; he simply voices the white sentiment of the nation, be they democrats, republicans, prohibitionists, or any other party. The issue I am taking is against the folly of too many of our own race.

Now, sir, if these are the kind of Negroes you refer to, I say, with double emphasis, it would be “nonsense” to talk of their returning to Africa. Such prattle would be but the jargon of folly. Every colored man in this country who is not proud of himself, his color, his hair and his general make-up is a monstrosity. He is a curse to himself and will be to his children. He is lower than a brute and does not deserve the breath he breathes, much less the bread he eats. Any man, though he be as black as midnight, who regards himself inferior to any other man that God ever made, is simply a walking ghoul and ought to join his invisible companions at the first opportunity, unless he does it to the extent of his natural or acquired ability.

But who is it, Senator, that has been nonsensical enough to talk about all the colored people returning to Africa? I had not heard of any one worth notice speaking about it prior to reading your interview. The man who is guilty of setting afloat such senseless pratings should be arrested, adjudged insane and sent to the asylum.

Senator Butler indicates nothing of the kind in his $5,000,000 bill, which should have been five hundred million or five billion as a start, for billions will have to come sooner or later. It will take billions of dollars to solve that problem, which the Supreme Court of the United States imposed when it decitizened the Negro in the later part of 1883, for civil rights and citizenship are one and inseparable, as you told me out of your mouth. Nor does the bill of Senator Butler say one word about going to Africa. True, other senators, such as Morgan, Vance, Hampton and other individuals have brought Africa before the country in their speeches, but not as a part of any definite programme. The gist of every speech that has been delivered upon the Butler bill has been upon the theory that if the Negro went anywhere it must be at his own option.

Possibly no Negro in the nation has spoken more vociferously in favor of the Butler bill than myself, but I have kept in harmony with the spirit of the bill. Let the Negro go if he desires or remain here if he prefers. Let him exercise his own intellect and these would be censors of his manhood—hands off, unless they are asked for advice. The country is full of toadstool or fungus leaders, giving free advice to the Southern Negro, who know no more about his real condition than they do about Siberia.

The colored men in Charleston, Columbia, Savannah, Chattanooga, Mobile, Natchez, Vicksburg and Montgomery, do not fully realize the condition of the Southern Negro—I mean in the aggregate. How much less those at a greater distance. The Southern Negro is in the country, not in the cities, and to know their wants, wishes, desires and needs you must go among them, mingle with them, and hear and see for yourself. And when you say they have no desire to go to Africa, I who know the real condition of our race as well as any man who lives, say a million at least of them desire to go somewhere. They want freedom, manhood, liberty, protection or the right to protect themselves. At least a million of us have found out that this nation is a failure; that it cannot or has no disposition to protect the rights of a man who is not white. Not a court in the nation has given a decision in favor of the black man in twelve years. The Supreme Court is an organized mob against the Negro, and every subordinate court in the land has caught its spirit. Buy a railroad ticket in Washington for the Rio Grande, and I will give you a hundred dollars for every meal of victuals you purchase, unless you go around the back way and enter the kitchen and eat amid filth and smoke, and then pay as much for it as the Queen of England would have to pay. Take your own State, Mississippi. A few weeks ago, I walked up to the ticket window to purchase a ticket for Atlanta, and the agent told me to go out and come around to the back window and I could but a ticket. I remonstrated against such proscription, and he replied by saying, “We make Senator Bruce go round there, and you will have to do the same, and all other niggers.” This occurred in Jackson, Mississippi. As to the railroad cars, I will say nothing. You know too well. I happen to be used to them, however, and did not get frightened when I saw them.

Much has been said about the politics of Senator Butler, and how for his democratic proclivities, his bill of five millions should be odious to every black man. I grant that the presumption is that Senator Butler has no special love for the Negro; I shall therefore join in with the presumption and suppose him to be a Negro-hater, for argument’s sake, at all events. And who cares if he is? I have the same right to hate him that he has to hate me; the same civil and divine right. I do not seek or want his love. I ask no white man’s love the odds of a finger snap, nor black man’s either, but if I am hungry or thirsty and my enemy brings me bread or water I shall satisfy my anxiety. If I knew that heaven was so full of democrats that only one seat remained I should seek that seat. If I knew that John Brown, Lincoln, Sumner, Stevens, Chase, Grant, and all the heroes of freedom were in perdition, it would be no temptation for me to go there.

I care not what animus prompted Senator Butler. Immortality enthroned his brow from the moment he offered that bill. He will go down in history as the pioneer of a movement that heaven and earth will endorse in less than fifty years. Heaven indorses it now. Not a bill has been offered in Congress in fifteen years that even contemplated any relief for the Negro as a race. Mobs have broken open jails by scores and by hundreds, and the lynch-law victims could be counted by thousands, and other things too numerous to mention; but beyond a little thunder during Presidential campaigns nothing has been done or said about it. But Senator Butler comes forth with a bill, which, if it passes—grant, O my God, that it may—will enable at least a hundred thousand self-reliant black men to go where they can work out their own destiny, and lay the foundation of a future arena for useful activity; for unless we can find a field for our educated sons and daughters we may burn our colleges in a few years to the ground, for higher education in a few years will be a nuisance unless we can put it to work, and we cannot do it here, shut out, as we are, from every educated business employment by reason of our color. And a race who cannot hew out conditions and manufacture possibilities is a failure. If our inadequacy to such a result is too self-evident to even make the experiment, then the doom of the Negro is sealed, and slavery is his normal sphere.

But while I accept the doctrine of the unity of the human race, I believe the Negro division of it is the junior race of the world, and that this boy race has a long and mighty future before it, and that an enslavement here, while actuated by the cupidity of the whites, is intended to be in the order of Providence the culmination of glorious results. What we will be, no earthly creature can divine; but one thing is sure, we must be put in full possession of every right and privilege here, or this nation must pay us $40,000,000, for our 200 years’ service, and let us go where we can have unconditional manhood. I have calculated how much this nation owes the Negro, and it figures out just $40,000,000,000,000. We must have it and will have it, or full manhood here, and we are not going to receive full manhood recognition here. The whites will not concede it. Therefore, as soon as these old slave dwarfs, slave manikins, and slave tools die out, our children and their children will play a new deal in the programme of the future.

I have not space here to describe the infinite resources of Africa, and show its special fitness to be the future theatre of the elevated and cultured Negro. Let it suffice to say that it is the giant continent of the world. It is the Eden of earth, and will in time be the heart of the globe, sanitarily, commercially and evangelically. No stronger evidence need by produced of a person’s idiocy than the presumption that Africa is to remain dormant forever. Such a surmise even is charging the God of nature with folly. Mightier gods than ever graced Olympian thrones will again vacate them, to feast at the banquet tables of Ethiopian Africa, and grander Homers will weave it into song. The land that gave the infant Jesus protection and sent a representative with him to the crimsoned summit of Golgotha, can never be cursed or remain under the shadow of a curse.

Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini; and He will put the civilized world under contribution for the enlightenment of that continent, be the agents and actors Republicans, Democrats, Prohibitionists, Negro-lovers, monarchies, churches, explorers, diamond-hunters, gold-diggers, ship-sailors, wise men, fanatics, cranks, enthusiasts, or slave-catchers. If I could believe that God simply made the Negro to remain here and play the scullion for the whites forever, as he is doing to-day, and will do until he gets a flag, founds a nation or does something besides grumble, find fault, and catch a few official scraps (and precious few at that), I would be tempted to waver in my faith that God is just.

Do you not see that race prejudice is on the increase? Instance the case of Hon. Madison Davis, of Athens, Ga., my own State: Mr. Davis was postmaster in Athens before, for eight years, I think, and when myself and all the colored members of the legislature were expelled upon the ground that we were colored, Mr. Davis was allowed to retain his seat by the vote of every white Democrat and Republican in the house, upon the ground that his colored blood was too small to constitute him a Negro. Therefore, the State of Georgia declared him white, or accepted him as white. But just look at the terrible excitement which his recent appointment to the same post office has provoked, simply because that white gentleman by the laws of Georgia, has one-sixteenth of Negro blood in his arteries.

Senator Ingalls would possibly pronounce him a hybrid (mule), but he has a house full of children I am not anathematizing the whites about these things. I am not denouncing the South any more than the North, for the decision of a Northern supreme court is the author of it all. I find a white man is a white man and a black man is a black man, be he Northerner or Southerner, and the great question that confronts us is, What will the black man do? You, Senator Bruce, say all of you stay here and wait for better times. I say, let us pray God and man to pass the bill of Senator Butler, and let a line of steamships be started between here and Africa, and let such of us as believe we are not monkeys, and can do something without the white man’s domination, go and try the experiment. Give me five millions of dollars, and let the several States turn over to me all the colored penitentiary convicts, and I will carry them to Africa and inaugurate a republic that your son, Roscoe Conkling Bruce, can be president of someday.

The Roman Empire began with such material, and the sequel you know. Surely Senator Bruce would not object to the penitentiary convicts going, and they will go, too, if you will give them a chance.

Pardon the length of this letter. I have just noticed its space, yet it scarcely touches the points I would like to discuss in your interview. I will conclude, however, by saying that Senator Butler may fail in getting his bill through Congress, but, sooner or later, God will raise up a thousand Butlers, black and white, and hundreds of millions will be appropriated for that purpose, and you, Senator Bruce, great though you be, will be left standing as a harmless speck of a writhing negativity.

Let me say, however, what future any man can see here for the Negro, with a head as cool as you possess, and a brain as well balanced as yours, I cannot imagine, especially with every United States court armed to the teeth to crush him out of existence, and in the face of decisions that will run and last as long as the nation shall exist, that simply means his perpetual degradation or ultimate re-enslavement. What could Congress or the President do for us if they had the will to better our condition? What can all the people of the United States do for us when the court, as a last resort, declares that the Negro is a dog, and when no power in the nation can overrule their decision. You may rest your hopes upon the….times getting better, but I shall regard the evils complained of above as the voice of God and nature calling upon the Negro to arise and do something for himself, and Senator Butler and his bill as a heaven-send to our race.

H. M. Turner

Atlanta, Ga., March 12

Throes of Death of the A.M.E. Church: February 7, 1889

Throes of Death of the A.M.E. Church

Christian Recorder: February 7, 1889

One of the most eminent phrenologists in the world says, “That the entire animal and fowl kingdoms are represented in mankind.” I presume he based his conclusions largely upon the theory that man being the highest specimen of animated nature, embodies all the lower elements, proclivities and propensities of animated existence. But since hearing him make the remark, some twenty-six years ago, I have noticed that there is either a semblance of truth in it, or there is quite a limit to our understanding of each other’s eccentricities. It does seem that people partake of all animal natures or give out preponderances of dispositions that appear to be doggish, wolfish, catish, foxish, hoggish, bullish, mulish, bearish, monkeyish, houndish, (that will take me in I reckon) and cranish, hawkish, eagleish, goosish, buzzardish, etc. But which of these will fill the measure of some of our good friends, who attempted to gloat too soon over a remark I made a few weeks ago, when referring to the New England Conference through your paper, I will leave for others to decide.

In your issue of December 27th, I replied to a letter sent me, which contained some remarks I thought unjustly caustic, and in an open reply I said “The truth is the A M E Church is in the throes of death, if we would open our eyes and see it, and no man can afford to evade duty or twaddle at this time. Dr. C S. Smith made a report at our last General Conference which frighten us all nearly to death. Giant men stood appalled and flippant tongues for once were silent. And much more bearing upon the same line, clearly showing the reason why I made the remark, simply because, if the statistics of Dr. Smith were correct we are not growing in membership. As he reported the Church loss in membership than four years ago by some few thousand. I called the report of Dr. Smith if true, the “throes of death.” Because stagnation or non progression in the Church of God is ultimate death. A fact so transparent that a blind man might see through it; yet I am told (for I have not seen them) that certain editorial buzzards were so delighted at finding what they thought was a dead carcass or a lump of putrefied carrion, that a number of papers have been full of “the throes of death” for the A. M E Church ever since. As many things as that letter contained which I think might have been referred to with profit, nothing could be noticed but that little sentence that seemed to stink so sweetly, “The A. M. E, Church in the throes of death.” Come on buzzards and vultures and get a mess. Be careful. however, when you throw your bill in the eye of this dead carcass, that is does not spring to its feet and make you fly. The A. M E. Church is weak enough, sick enough, poor enough, mean enough, does little enough I grant, to not exalt over too much But she is more than all her competitive fragments thrown in a pile; doing more for Negro elevation than any church upon the face of the globe, while she does not have so much money possibly, you might hang all her bishops to a sour apple tree and send all her general officers to the penitentiary and burn every college to the ground, and destroy every paper she prints, and the A. M. E. Church would move on in stately grandeur, scarcely knowing that anything had happened. I will say, however, that the A. M E. Church is in the death throes of revolution, but I believe she will get through safely. Will the same papers please copy?

The Bishops’ Support Christian Recorder: August 25, 1887

The Bishops’ Support

Christian Recorder: August 25, 1887

I have seen and heard so much of late relative to the enormous salaries of the Bishops that I have almost reached the point where I hate the terms that mention the sum. Every time reference is made by a large number of writers to the election of more Bishops, or to anything like the number the Church needs to do the work required and expected, the salary scare-crow must be held up and flaunted in the face of God and his Church. We are told, virtually, that it will never do to properly man the ship of Church, for the reason that the murderous sum of two thousand dollars will play, rapacity and ruin with it; that the Church is a mere human association, devoid of divine protections, or that God himself is a failure, or that he is too poor to provide for the subsistence of his representatives, or that he is not faithful to his promises and we are left to the contingencies of human foresight and legislation to perpetuate the Christian Church, therefore any man or church who will take God at his word, do their duty, trust Heaven and go on in the discharge of their ministerial labors, are simply foolish. That is the lot or quintessence of all such papers or arguments I see in print. Not one of them expresses any reliance upon God, any faith in his promises, nor is there a speck of history quoted to show how God has provided for his Church through the dismal glooms and fearful ordeals of the past. If some of these precocious writers would read the “Book of Martyrs” or the “Persecutions of the Church in all Ages,” they would be better prepared to handle this subject and see it in the light of a superintending Providence. The salaries of the Bishops are hawked up every time something is proposed for the needs and wants of the Church. Nor is it limited to our own official organ, but it is heralded through the secular press with as much gusto as if it were a piece of daily news. I meet it in exchanges which come to the Southern Recorder regularly. And the pastors have made it the one hobby of all their Dollar Money appeals, so much so that nearly every child in the land is familiar with it. Next thing it will be woven into our catechisms, webbed into our theology and rhymed into our poetry. Two thousand dollars is made to appear so enormous……that persons at a distance who have some scheme on hand for the Church or otherwise will write for twenty or forty dollars with as much impertinence as if the Bishop had a treasury belonging to them. “We are going to have a big rally in June, and we would like for you to be with us; but if you can’t come, send us twenty-five of that two thousand dollars you get. We shall look for it, now.” These are the exact words of a letter written to me some time ago; nor did the letter come from a preacher in my district. I don’t know what he wrote his own Bishop. But it is useless to repeat much more on this line. It appears to me sometimes from what I read and hear that the salaries of the Bishops are literally begrudged.

Now, I wish to say for the information of all parties, the Bishops never asked for this or any other salary. They were content to live by such amounts as their respective episcopal districts could raise for them, and were doing so grandly; but the elders themselves, with the lay delegates, at the General Conference of 1879, manufactured and adopted the present system, which has been in vogue ever since. Some of the Bishops were bitterly opposed to it and said so openly; but the delegates, ministerial and lay, adopted it nevertheless. Now after the church, of its own free will and accord legislated the system into existence, and has kept it in existence so long that a generation has grown up under it, is it fair, is it just, is it honorable to be everlastingly babbling about it……..?

Bishops are constantly on the railroads, paying the most exorbitant prices for every mouthful they eat. My mail and telegrams from April 1, 1886 to April 1, 1887, cost over two hundred dollars. Besides, while the law provides that the several churches visited by the Bishop shall meet all of his traveling expenses, I have repeatedly paid out fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five dollars to remunerate me for the money spent to get there. In one year alone I have used three hundred dollars of my salary for traveling expenses for which I never received a cent; then again it is not unfrequently the case that ministers will buy my ticket to the next point but say nothing of the fifty cents or dollar I had to pay for a carriage to take me to and from the place where I was assigned during my stay with them. I have even had them to refuse to let me walk to the depot and procure a carriage for me and apologize for not accompanying me to the depot for the reason that they had a child somewhere to baptize, and when I would get to the depot the carriage driver would demand a dollar, which I might have saved by walking. But without itemizing the Bishops’ disadvantages and the pastors’ advantages and drawing the comparison further, suffice it to say, the odds are overwhelmingly against the Bishops, and it requires but a moment’s reflection to see it. The two thousand dollars scare-crow that has been hawked up and magnified so frequently, has brought the Bishops’ support into contempt by thousands, and militates against the Dollar Money for the reason that the people are led to believe that all the Dollar Money goes to make up their salary, whereas not over thirty per cent is ever seen by the Bishops. Indeed, I doubt whether it will transcend twenty-five percent.

All this medley about the Church not being able to take care of the necessary number of Bishops is simple bosh. There is money enough collected now, if wisely and economically disposed of, to support ten more Bishops at the present salary, and with the necessary number of Bishops the Dollar Money would be doubled. Let the forty percent that revers back to the conferences, the burden of which the Bishops have to carry any way, be reduced to fifteen or twenty percent, and let other burdens be taken off of the financial department, which can easily be done, and there will be money enough to support all the Bishops the Church needs, and such other interests as are indispensable to existence and success.

There is a false economy that dominates our Church, which we will do well to remedy at the earliest possible moment. Few appear to see anything except what is in hand, which they magnify until it becomes an enormity. The man our Church needs at the front now are men who can devise measures to turn the millions of wasted money in this country into the coffers of the Church, and utilize it for God and the salvation of souls.

False economy cripples, hampers, antagonizes and militates against every vital measure the Church inaugurates. We want political economy, business economy, practical, common sense and every-day economy, that will devise measures, ways, means and schemes to snatch some of the money wasted in excursions, liquor, lager beer, societies and a thousand other things and give it to the Church of God, and there will be money on hand to support a hundred Bishops.

But rather than the Church should suffer for episcopal supervision, let the General Conference give her the necessary Bishops and throw them upon their respective districts for their living. Let all the present Bishops except Bishop Turner have their present salaries continued, but let Bishop Turner and the new Bishops live upon such support as their districts will provide, except such as may be assigned to foreign missions, permanently or temporarily. For once in the history of our Church, every man in it qualified for the Bishopric can get to be a Bishop. So let us have enough to preside over annual conferences, district conferences, lay corner stones, dedicate churches, visit presiding elder districts, settle feuds, change pastors when necessary, see after new work, create missions, etc.

The foolishness of Southern farmers in the past has been in planting too much territory and letting the grass and weeds run away with it. Let us take care of the older Bishops, as they have been the great pioneers of a grander dispensation. They have spread the Church from ocean to ocean; they have fenced in all the territory the nation could afford. Honored be their names forever. Let me now furnish strong, vigorous and able men to work up this vast field, so that we will not have to travel a hundred miles, at times, without seeing an A. M. E. Church or an A. M. E. member. We ought to have churches in every town and village in the South, and in some counties where we have no church at all, we ought to have a dozen. My heart sickens within me often when traveling through this great country and finding whole towns and villages with hundreds of our people living in them and not a colored church in the place. The people have nowhere to spend their Sabbaths, but sit around the streets or go fishing or hunting sometimes play ball, run foot races, wrestle, pitch dollars or old-time coppers, dance a little, and, frequently, wind up in a fight. While this state of things exists some of our wiseacre economists are going into spasms about a little support for the future Bishops. Let no man’s support get between God and his Church. If the new Bishops are too lazy or stuck up to dig their living from the people, let them perish. Better a few worthless Bishops perish than for thousands of immortal souls. And unless a Bishop is worthless or too swell-headed to work, he can live decently, for the people, as a general rule, delight to honor, reverence and contribute to a Bishop. The whites, as well as the colored, will gladly keep him. But where a Bishop has so much to do that he cannot half do anything, the Church is obliged to suffer and the work to lag……

I must stop at once; I did not know I had written so much; I will write again.

Bishop Turner’s Plain Talk: September 23, 1886

Bishop Turner’s Plain Talk

Christian Recorder: September 23, 1886

Mr. Editor: For the past three weeks in keeping up with the advice of several eminent doctors, I have been loitering around home spending my time reading a little, fanning my cheeks (if men have cheeks), sleeping, eating, overlooking a mass of unanswered letters, getting married to the same old wife, as there is not much chance of getting a new one, taking in a little earthquake freight, bothering with some nauseating medicines, far from being nectarel in taste and relief, entertaining several ministers who were passing through the city, adjusting a number of books on the shelves of my library, hunting up some old manuscripts, overlooking a vast quantity of annual conference minutes, piles of the Christian Recorder and inspecting a number of newspapers that have been piled up in a mass for six or eight months with the wrappers being torn off, etc. Now, as it is about time for me to take the field again—well it is always time—but I am about to re-enter the traveling field, I propose to offer a few thoughts to the church.

1st . I feel we have misconstrued the power of education. Ever since the war we have literally deified learning. We taught our young ministers that if they could get learning, they were fitted for every phase of ministerial life and responsibility. Thus the power of the Holy Spirit and a direct call to preach the gospel from God have been allowed to pass as secondary considerations. The consequence has been that those that are fortunate enough to procure a little book learning thought themselves everything, took the big head in most instances, and those who were so unfortunate as not to get learning on a high scale, concluded they were nobody and sat themselves down to do nothing. The majority of our ministers today stand thus, wise fools. I mean those with learning and no spiritual power, merely cultivated intellects and self-imposed fools. I mean those who conclude that because they are not graduates or have not some kind of paper or sheep skin called a diploma that they can learn nothing, do nothing, accomplish nothing, and even hope for nothing; in other words, they impose fool upon themselves, while heaven and earth offer them wisdom and distinction. In Shakespeare we find the following, “O, that someone would write me down an ass.” But these brethren in too many instances write them down as asses.

Thus the A.M.E. Church is being largely manned by these two classes. The first class big headed, insolent, self-inflated, treating the fathers with contempt, making fun of the ignorance of the people doing nothing to enlighten them, holding themselves above everybody, preaching written sermons as dry as chips, which God never intending for any soul saving preacher to do, and in short, trying to get people to heaven through mere intellect, where they are not going themselves, for no man can serve God intellectually nor preach a soul saving gospel intellectually; man’s moral nature must be brought into play as well as his intellectual.

The second class, or a large portion of them, are going around whining about what they never had, how little schooling they had, yet they can read, write, and have ocean of time to improve and the same time spent in magnifying their weaknesses and disadvantages properly improve, might make them giants in the land.

Any man that God ever called to preach can take the Bible and hymn book alone, with the holy spirit, and alarm the nation. Old Tony Murphy of South Carolina who would not read anything but the bible and hymn book, and knew the Bible almost by memory was the greatest preacher I ever listened to or expect to. Men of the highest rank and greatest learning hung up on his lips, as God’s word was poured forth from his massive mouth, like children. Old Sankey Taylor, the only man I ever heard that can preach an hour on anything he choose, by strictly quoting scripture, could do the same. An eminent white minister asked me a few days ago why the colored Christian did not turn out some great soul saving evangelist, like Moody, Jones, and Small. He said we had the brain, the voice, the lung power, and he thought God especially endowed the colored race with that kind of gifts. I told him our scholars were too high strung and timid. And he said, “Too high strung and timid to save souls? What were they called to preach for?” Have he struck me with a stick, I could not have felt the force more than I felt the force of these words. True we have men of great revival power, such as Grant of Texas, but I need not mention names; but where is the minister who is making it a specialty? Think of it, and tremble for our condition as a race. Not a great colored revival preacher in the United States. Several on a small scale, I admit. Ministers often are relating their great triumphs to me, speaking about having a dozen or two converts, or possibly a hundred. But a man that God called to preach who cannot count his converts by the thousands, has nothing to congratulate himself over, unless his minister life had been of brief duration. I hope to have more to say on this subject in the future.

2nd. While the members of the last two General Conferences treated me personally with marked respect and while I have no revenge to seek, yet a scene of candor, and I think duty should prompt someone to say to the conferences, if they intend to return the same men to the General Conference of 1888 they should instruct them to legislate with more calmness and cool deliberation. Not only is the most of our legislation put through under whip and spur, previous questions, or good measures killed by motions to lay upon the table, before the merits of the questions were presented by the mover, or anyone else, but I have heard mere boys hurl slangs of insolence in the face of old decrepit Bishops who were famous ministerially before their mothers were born. Indeed, our late General Conference have become the arena of Episcopal humiliation not in the high dignified argumentative manner that will point of errors of the Bishop, presenting precedents, analogies, historical authorities, logical inconsistences and &c., but mere insolence in most cases with a little dull wit to arouse laughter, which always betrays weakness or ignorance. The idea of a man standing upon the General Conference floor making a speech upon the grave issues which must reflect immortal souls with a view of extorting laughter, is not only an insult to intelligence, but an insult to our Lord Jesus Christ, and proves he is totally inadequate to the trust of a representative; yet this is alarmingly done in our General Conference in late years.

Now I do not accuse all the members of our late General Conference of being so unconscious of the high duties entrusted to them, but I do say that in the main that class of men squall everybody else as a general thing to their seats. And as flying into exasperations it is common. The consequence is, more motions are put through in passion or laughter than in a cool, calculating mood; hence the folly of so much of our late legislation. Thus you see our last Discipline is the best and poorest ever offered to the church. I mean the best arranged and the poorest forms of Methodist government in the history of the connection or any other connection laying claim to intelligence. I would pretend to say that the Bishops in some instances have not been just a little too inexorable in their likes and dislikes to measures, and have spoken rather acerbly when milder terms would have been more effective. I have thought some did at times, and still think so; but even then respect for hoary heads should have consideration with ministerial gentleman. As a great and good man once said, “Respect for God is indication by respect for age.” But more upon this point, in the future.

3rd. The next General Conference must elect more Bishops. The South alone needs at least five. Our work is literally significant for Episcopal attention and the next thing we know, our church will begin to wane. The letters and telegrams that are sent to me both from my own and other Episcopal districts to decide churches, attend district meetings, settle feuds, lay corner stones, and etc. is to run a man crazy. I get sick sometimes at the thought of our condition. I could remain at home year round and keep busy answering letters alone. I travel for hundreds of miles trying to go where most needed, as the discipline directs and come home preached, lectured and traveled down, to meet attacks of letters awaiting me, besides those forwarded to me, and when I ought to be in the bed resting I am till two and three o’clock in the morning nodding, reading and either writing or dictating letters until I am compelled to retire. Men who talk about having enough Bishops ought to be sent to the mad house; they are idiots. For Heavens sake do not send any of that kind to the next General Conference, God don’t want them there. 

Yet I quake at the thought of electing enough Bishops for the use of the Church at one General Conference, for if they do, some compromise man is sure to get in, and no man ought to be elected a Bishop upon a compromise ticket. He will disturb the Church to the day of his death. No man ever had intenser opposition than I, but I thank God I was elected squarely upon my merits. I am no compromise man, at all events. Nor do we want unknown men, tidal wave men, boom men. We want men well known to the Church; if not great preachers and scholars men noted for coolness, discretion, judgment, kindness, affability, executive power, and activity. We want no lazy men, bigheaded men, self-inflated men, nor impatient men, nor do we want all religion and no common sense, so holy that they must kill who does not meet their idea, set up a kind of judgment day before God does. Bishops going around slandering elders, tattling like some old mouthy bag—I say we don’t want such men for Bishops, therefore let every man be elected upon his merits, for what he is worth. Neither do we want Bishops who must choose one master from among the elders in every conference he goes. If a man has not the patience to investigate all his facts about any issue, hear both sides and make up a cool decision, regardless of friend or foe, and not be necessitated to take the dictum of some elder, he is not the man for Bishop. True, presiding elders are naturally his counselors, but even then he should hear their reasons why before he reach a conclusion.

Now, how shall such men be secured is the question. Well, I will tell you discuss their merits freely. Talk about them with mouths wide open, write about them, weigh them, not simply weigh their goodness, but their common sense, see what they have done to build up the Church, learn what experience they have had, see if they have had opportunities to exhibit their inner natures; but above all, fast and pray over the men of your choice and ascertain what inclinations God imparts your mind.
As this letter is so long, I will call a halt for the time being, but I am not done with this subject. There is too much at stake for everybody to be silent, and as I have the reputation of being somewhat crack brained, nobody will take any offense at any remark I may make. I have no better sense so I am excused.

H. M. Turner

Contemplations: June 25, 1886


Christian Recorder: June 25, 1886

Mr. Editor: There are a vast amount of interviews I see going on through the country among white reporters and correspondents about the future of the negro. Every little white ass in the country has to be interviewed to tell that the negro is inferior to the white man. It is all the go South and I see the same infamous lightning has struck the North. The negro must be a mighty man when it takes the white people nearly three hundred years to find out his intellectual and moral status and reach the point of his inferiority. Well, well, well, some negro is inferior to some white man. Is he? How did they find it only? Who made the first discovery? What is the name of this great, renowned, famous, celebrated and marvelous wise fool? Who will give us the name and trace the lines of descent of such a consummate ass? But let us lay aside ridicule and come down to sober talk. It does appear that some of our white cousins will never tire trying to berate the colored man. 

Now let us grant for argument sake that the negro as a race is inferior to the buckra race (buckra means white in the Guinea language), then why resort to every species of meanness to keep him down? Let us suppose that the buckra really believes it, which I do not believe, then why will not one of them attack one of the inferiors? I have not known or heard of any instance in twenty years where one buckra man tried to attack one negro man by himself; he must always get a crowd first. They do not fear to meet a monkey or a coon, or any domestic animal, on equal terms and fair chances; it is only the inferior negro. If the negro is so inferior why did that rotten conclave in Washington, called United States Supreme Court, have to rob him of his legal rights to keep him down? But then it is not necessary to continue in this strain; every act of the buckra race towards the negro contradicts their own declarations. The logic of their conduct falsifies their expressions. I am not contending that the negro knows half as much as the buckra and is performing half the feats in the great scale of civilization and intellectual progress, but is that what they mean by inferiority? Will anyone dare to hazard his reputation for intelligence by claiming all the buckra children in the land inferiors because they are not the equals in culture as their fathers and mothers? Because they have not accomplished as much in science, philosophy, art, discovery and war? If that is their line of reaching inferiority I have no more to say; I am done with it; but, if they mean to intercept the future of the negro, and say that he is devoid of the reserve force to develop into equal intelligences, learning, oratory, statesmanship, commerce, and all that make up a great civilization. 

I am prepared to say such talk is the jargon of a madman. The real black man, as I see him, has a reserve force in store that no race under heaven has. He is strictly the child of the future. The Indian represents the past, the buckra the present and the Negro the future. History informs us that races are periodical; they revolve like a wheel, and the negro is both evolving and revolving toward future grandeur. The negro’s power of endurance and fitness to survive has been tested as possibly never before in the history of the world. Look at the ordeal of his enslavement, note his experience as a freedman, philosophize upon his introduction to freedom, see him all over the country working beside the buckra, doing as much, and more, when hard work is involved, and yet receiving from one-third to a half less in daily wages. If the negro can live under more trying circumstances, endure more and hold up and prosper under it better, I would like to know if there is not more of him. Well, in size we know, there is no more, for buckra men are as large as negro men; therefore there must be something in texture, in the fabric out of which the body is woven.

I have been attending, occasionally, a great revival which has been going on among our white friends, or I should have said our buckra friends, where from three to four thousand persons were in regular attendance. One thing particularly struck my attention, which was the order that prevailed throughout its proceedings. Now what was the secret of that order? It was the recognition of one man as the leader and manager. Ministers, eminent, learned and famous, sat there by the dozen, and when one was managing the others never opened their mouths, never injected a word, never jumped in ahead of one thing. I wish the writer could be treated in the same way sometimes when he is trying to bring sinners to God. If there is anything that is annoying, it is to be calling persons forward for prayer, or even for a collection, and to have a dozen mouths all squalling at the same time. I don’t care if they are ministers, they invariably kill the spirit, turn the meeting into a bedlam and end it in a farce. I never see or hear two, three or a half dozen preachers bellowing at the same congregation but what I think the people must regard them crazy. I do, I am sure. One man is enough to talk to any congregation at a time, or lead a meeting, or give direction, or suggest a song. Let this hint suffice, so far as I am concerned, at all events.

I also attended a quarterly meeting, where a presiding elder gave out the notice, preached, opened the doors of the church, took three persons in, invited several persons up for prayer and only called upon the poor pastor to offer one prayer, which he did with great power, I confess. This was in one of the most wealthy churches of the M. E. Church, South, and the pastor was a learned D. D., and the presiding elder was not; and worse than all, the pastor sat in the altar, while the presiding elder took charge of his pulpit. Why brother Kershaw did not walk in and pull that presiding elder out of the pulpit restore the pastor is question for future ages.

To use the blunt language of Robert Toombs, it appears that the bottom has been kicked out of hell at last. I think the gentlemen (I hesitate to call them divines) who have recently translated the Bible have done a trifling piece of work. I became disgusted with the new version of the New Testament when I discovered they had struck out the doxology of the Lord’s prayer, and left the Greek term hades, not translated. I thought then, as I do now, that they had as much right to turn that word into English as any other in the Bible. Now, here comes the Old Testament with “sheol” instead of hell, a Hebrew term not translated. Where are we now, if this new version is to be in any ecclesiastical sense recognized? One preacher will be haranguing his people here to repent and come to God, otherwise they will all be turned into sheol. Another one, across the street, will be pleading to escape the damnation of hades; and still another around the corner will be warning his people about the danger of ending their career in hell. Up to the present we have had only two places pointed out for our future existence; now we have four, heaven, sheol, hades and hell. The question arises, to which will we go? Thus confusion and endless wrangle is to be the order. The books that will be written, the discussions and arguments that will follow these non-translated terms in the future, will literally be immense; hours, days, weeks and months that ought to be devoted to prayer and work for heaven will be consumed in wild and senseless babble over these terms. Men and women by the millions will be confused and thrown in the labyrinth of doubt…….The translations have been very careful, however, not to leave the Hebrew and Greek terms for heaven untranslated; they are just as different as those implying hell and should have been left untouched if they did not intend to translate the others. It was as easy to give heaven three names as hell, for the word heaven neither occurs in the Hebrew or Greek language. What could have been their object for pretending to have such scrupulosities over hell and none about heaven? Is a solemn question. While it will have no evil effect upon scholars, it will be attended with direful results among the ignorant, or rather the illiterate, masses. Several of these would-be Smarties will be pretending that a wonderful discovery has been made, and that the doctrine of future punishment is a myth not supported by the word of God. I can predict very easily, however, what will be the career of this new translation; it will die before its translators do. It will scarcely be a bubble upon the waters of the Christian Church after a few years. The old Bible, which has been the guide of millions for hundreds of years, will go on as usual, and generations unborn will feed of her bounties. I would not be understood as not favoring a more perfect translation. My limited knowledge of both Hebrew and Greek has long since made me desire such results, but I am not satisfied with the new attempt. It is not an improvement, it is simply calculated to injure the cause of Christ by unsettling the minds of thousands who might be saved. Yet, in point of scholarship, the new translation is a rare production.

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting in one of the first churches of the land, and what should arrest my attention but a supreme judge standing up there leading the choir. I whispered to a gentleman and asked what that meant, Judge _______ beating time at the head of that choir. “Oh,” he replied, “he is the leader of it.” As this was the first instance in which I saw such a sight, I have renewed my faith in the coming millennium. Of course he was not a United States supreme judge, such Christian lightning will not strike that crowd until they pass through sheol and hades. As I see that the theory is being advanced lately that hell is a reformatory school, I suppose they mean in this wise: Sheol, primary department; hades, normal; and hell the collegiate. I can guess where the Supreme Court will graduate if this theory ever should turn out to be true.

Bishop Turner on a Chaplain for the Convicts: October 1, 1885

Bishop Turner on a Chaplain for the Convicts

Christian Recorder: October 1, 1885

Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia:

I trust you will pardon the presumption of a humble citizen, or rather an inhabitant of your great commonwealth, for venturing to impose a few remarks upon your valuable time and attention. Nothing but a high sense of duty that somebody should assume has prompted this doubtful adventure, but I am the more inclined to risk the experiment when I remember the laudable stand you have taken upon the all-important question of temperance, which will make your session memorable with the living and illustrious with thousands who are now sleeping in the womb of the future. A legislature that has the courage, heroism, philanthropy and Christian daring to throttle, as best it can, the monster curse of the age, in temperance, will, I believe, have the grace to hear the appeal, realizing its wisdom and philosophy, respond affirmatively.

You have, according to reports, fifteen hundred convicts in this State—I mean those who are supposed to be in the penitentiary. I have no reference to the ordinary chain-gangs. These convicts are there for temporary punishment; the bulk of them will be thrown back on society again, and will exert a good or a baneful influence upon our youth; hence the wisdom of trying to make them better when they return than they were when they left us. Now, that brings us to consider what reformatory agents, if any, are adequate to the magnitude of the case.

Mere brute punishment never has and never will make any person better; the history of the world forbids even such a postulate; nor will bare knowledge of right and wrong supply the remedy. Man has trio-nature—physical, intellectual and moral—and until you reach his moral nature, reformation is impossible, and all efforts to recover him are fruitless. Any instrumentality involving his betterment must reach through the physical, intellectual, down into his moral nature; otherwise you may imprison, whip, starve, work and torture till doomsday, and there will be no improvement.

And this leads me to appeal to your collective wisdom for a regular State Chaplain for the use of the convicts, whose absolute business it will be to visit them in every part of the State—preach, lecture, advise and prepare those whose time may expire for better and more useful lives, and those who may die there, for heaven. Surely the great State of Georgia will not refuse so small a boon to over a thousand human sufferers. Such a Chaplain could also collect thousands of tracts and religious papers and periodicals and give them, which would help him greatly in the performance of his duties and entertain them, on Sabbaths and when not at work, far more profitably than wasting their time playing cards and using vulgar slang.

I have been told in some counties the grand juries provide a meager religious service, but that they employ the most ignorant colored ministers they can find. Your honors do not want that kind of religious humbuggery; you want an educated Christian gentleman, at a salary of twelve or fifteen hundred dollars a year, who can and will work among the convicts and give his whole time to them—a minister who can sing, pray, lecture and preach intelligently, eloquently, and forcibly. It will pay the State quadruple in days to come and convicts will bless your honorable memories forever.

While I am told nine-tenths of the convicts are colored, I am not pleading for a colored minister. I am willing for him to be as white as snow, since he does not make a sinecure of the office; yet, if you desire him to be colored, I can furnish them in every respect fitted for the position—men whose labors among the convicts will tell upon their destinies in time and in eternity.

But I am not making for the color; I am pleading for a State Chaplain, for a messenger from God, for a representative of the only power that has ever been commensurate with human ill or evil, to be sent to the poor victims of vice and misfortune. I make this request in the name of God and every Christian man and woman that breathes the breath of life, for the soul of every prayer that is offered to heaven says amen to this request.

Yours respectfully.

H. M. Turner,

One of the Bishops of the A. M. E. Church