Welcome



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.

Untitled: August 10, 1893

Untitled
Christian Recorder: August 10, 1893

30 Young St., Atlanta, GA. July 24th, 1893.

Mr. Editor--

Here is a letter from that inestimable Christian missionary lady – Mrs. Elder Ridgel. While it is personal, I think I am justified in making it public because of the kind of information it will impart to the Church. All that Mrs. Ridgel says about our possibilities is truer than she has described it. I would have published it in the “Voice of Missions,” but the paper is “set up” and is now being printed so you will do me and others a great favor by giving it to the Church through the columns of THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER. Anybody who can read this letter and not weep must be heartless.

I beg to say to the ministers and members of the Church who may not perchance take the “Voice of Missions,” they will do well to send five cents to C.E. Young, the secretary, and get a copy of the August issue, as the list of all the churches that gave to the cause of missions will appear in there and things that I have written that may make a stir in the connection will appear also, and I would rather for you to see the paper than to become irritated, about what you may hear is in it. Get it and read it for yourselves and let your thunderbolts fly, I shall hold myself prepared for them and have a few thunderbolts to spare also.

Fraternally,

H. M. Turner

Bishop Turner's Letter: August 2, 1893

Bishop Turner’s Letter
The Anderson Intelligencer (Anderson, South Carolina): August 2, 1893

ATLANTA, GA. July 22. – Mr. Bill Arp- Dear Sir: I am a regular reader of your Sunday articles to the Constitution when I am at home and even when I am absent the papers are saved so that I may peruse them if time permits. While I concur in a vast deal that you say, it sometimes happens that I am compelled to differ, although I regard you as an honest, bold writer. I fully recognize the fact that a white man in this section of the country must respect the popular prejudices that exist against my race, or forfeit his influence among the whites. No man dares to speak in defense of the Negro and command the respect of the whites. It matters not whether the Negro title is entitled to it or not. You, however, possess the courage to occasionally say a kind word on our behalf. But in the Sunday issue of the Constitution you innocently, and I believe conscientiously, but ignorantly, make use of a sentence that is not wholly true. Nevertheless, I am not surprised at your lack of better information, because you have never had the opportunity of informing yourself to the extent that would enable you to speak authoritatively.

You say: “Their inclination (the negroes) to steal is natural.” You doubtless intend to convey the idea, by using the term “natural,” that the African races are instinctively given to stealing; for if it is natural it is as much their nature to steal as it is to be black, to have curly hair, or to be a separate race in any particular. Please allow one who knows as much of the Negro as anyone who breathes the breath of life, and certainly knows more of him that it is possible for any white man to know-one who knew the Negro as a slave, knows him as a freeman, knows him in civilized Africa and knows him in heathen Africa and knows him in heathen Africa, to inform you that the negro races naturally are the most honest specimens of humanity that tread the globe, and the most virtuous. To find the natural inclinations or instincts of the African races you must go to heathen Africa; not upon the African coast, where civilization and heathenism commingle, but go back into the interior, as I have gone, and mingle with the heathen in their natural state and condition, and you will find no such thing as theft. You may lose your watch, coat, hat, or anything regardless of its value, and the first African who passes by will hang the thing of value upon the limb of a tree by the roadside and 10,000 will pass by it and no one will touch it, which can be said for no other part of the globe that I have ever visited or heard of, after forty-five years of reading. As for their virtue, I mean morals in general, telling the truth, chastity among the feminine sex, and the males as well, outside of polygamy, which is by no means universal, they excel any other uncivilized races upon the face of the globe. In regard to the petty larcenies which exist in this country among my race where their natural inclinations have been distorted by a series of circumstances, which I shall not at present attempt to enumerate, I shall say nothing.

If the wholesale charge you bring against the Negro in regard to petty larceny be true, which I contend has grown out of his abnormalized environments associated with the wants of civilization which his poverties condition prevented him from supplying, I am very grateful that you do us the justice of restricting it to petty larceny, for one white man will steal as much as a single grab as a thousand Negroes will steal in forty years. This has been verified within the last decade by a number of State Treasurers, who have pocketed over a million of dollars.

If the American Negro will steal from the white people it is some consolation to know that he will take a little and leave much. Comment upon this point is unnecessary. Justice and honor both compel me, however, to admit that much you say about the Negro is too true; but I cannot endorse your position in condoning the lynch mobs of the land; as every man is innocent, according to the theory and genius of civilized nations, until he is tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers, equals or associates.

Yours respectfully, H. M. TURNER.

Success Under Disadvantages: September 2, 1886

Success Under Disadvantages

Christian Recorder: September 2, 1886


Mr. Editor: Notwithstanding I have just reached home from an extended tour both sick and exhausted. I am tempted, nevertheless, to pencil you a few lines which I think timely and necessary.

While in my district proper there is much by way of success for the general Church to congratulate itself upon. Souls are converted, thousands are joining the church, ministers are having revivals by scores, grand camp meetings are being held, a large number of churches are also being erected and some are being built under the most favorable circumstances, demonstrating the power of the man of God, when he has a mind to work and will trust heaven and go at it. Several of the cases might be instanced, if I felt able to write them up, but as I do not, I will notice but one—an instance, too, of the most gloomy in point of prospect of any that has come under my observation.

In 1870 a mission was established at Somerset, Ky, a lot was procured in the suburbs of the town, and an old house was improvised into a meeting place. From that time up to the last session of the Kentucky Conference Somerset was looked upon as a starvation centre, and any preacher sent there regarded himself as being thus appointed to gratify some revenge of the Bishop or presiding elder; and under the supposition that he was the victim of episcopal vengeance, he smarted all the year and waited for conference to relate his fearful hardships and the dreadful ordeal through which he had passed. Those who were so unfortunate as to get the Somerset appointment neither did nor tried to do anything for the betterment of his successor or the improvement of the people. Thus sixteen years have rolled their contents into eternity, without the accomplishment of aught good for this place.

About a year ago the writer visited Somerset in person, surveyed the situation and took in the possibilities. He believed that a good worker could build a church there, and lift the standard of the connection to a plane of respectability to say the least. When conference met and the appointments were made, the lot fell upon Rev. Robert Davis to go to Somerset But nothing daunted, he took up his bed and walked, and reaching the seat of his operations, his half blinded eyes turned loathingly away from the hut where so many predecessors had essayed to eke out a year’s existence. Encouraged and even grandly helped by his presiding elder, Rev. George W. Hatten, a man of eminent qualities, Brother Davis resolved upon a new church. Space will not permit me to give in detail the labors of Brother Davis. Let it suffice that last Sabbath, the 15th inst., I dedicated to the glory of God a church edifice at Somerset, erected, painted, plastered, towered, belled, seated, pulpited, altered, carpeted and completed in all respects, worth at least fourteen hundred dollars. The church ranks as third of the city, including all white churches. The white people of Somerset, influenced by the Christian deportment and unflagging zeal of Elder Davis, deserve grateful notice for their literal contributions in the erection of our church there, as well as several colored persons who are members of no church at all. From many white donors I select a few names, some of whom gave money, and others gave bricks, lumber, nails, shingles, paints, lime, hair, &c. The white donors were Robert Gibson, Judge I.T. Tarter, H G Trimble, Judge T. Z. Marrow, J.S. May, County Clark, A.J. Crawford, H. C. Smith, Mr. Bates, L D. S. Patten, J. R. Richardson, Gurdly & Co., George Sally and Co., James Woods, Samuel Newell, Fish Hall & Co, James Dunn and others.

Some colored donors who are not members of any church—Mr. and Mrs. Williams, who gave eighty, Henry II. Barker, William Sindusky, Eliza Sindusky, Henry Ellet and others.

I have not written up this Somerset triumph so much to find an excuse to praise Elder Davis and his white supporters or friends, grateful as I am to all of them, as I have to show some of our ministerial grumblers what can be accomplished when there is a will to work and a character behind the will that merits respect and confidence. Brother Davis is by no means a prepossessing man in personal appearance; all he had to depend on was his spotless deportment and the vim of a man of God; hence his success, and a grand success it has proven to be. Inasmuch as we live in a day when everybody is in pursuit of titles, such as colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, professor, A.M., B.D., D.D., M.D., L.L.D., etc., it does appear that a title for church builders would be highly in place. I think I shall confer such a title upon every minister who erects a church under such embarrassing circumstances as Brother Davis, at Somerset; Bickham at Jackson, Tenn, and Bartlet Taylor, at Louisville, Ky. I presume my right to do so will be questioned, for I am neither a college faculty, a trustee board nor has the General Conference authorized it; yet, believing some honor should attach to those who construct houses of worship, as well as to others who know a little about Greek, Latin, and sometimes, Hebrew, I hereby exercise the right to confer upon Rev. Robert Davis the title of D.C.C., (Doctor of Church Construction) and shall hereafter write his name Rev. Robert Davis, D.C.C.

I halt at this point, as Rev. W. J. Gaines, D.D., has just told my wife to inform me that if I desire to see Mrs. Rev. J.G. Yeiser alive, I must go at once.


Three hours later.


Just returned from Elder Yeiser. Mrs. Yeiser died in great peace before I reached the house. She was, without doubt, the most serene, peaceful and beautiful corpse my eyes ever beheld. Mrs. Mary Ellen Virginia Yeiser was born about the year 1853 or 54. She was the daughter of that great man Rev. Edward Davis, so long a member of the Ohio Conference, and who would have been a Bishop had he not been called to heaven so early. She joined the A.M.E. Church when eight years old and remained such until she left for heaven to day. She graduated from the collegiate department of Wilberforce University in 1873 in company with the present President of the same and others, who have made their mark in the arena of usefulness She became the finished wife of Rev. J.G. Yeiner, B.D, June 17th, 1876 and leaves a son and husband to lament her great loss. Her last words to Oscar, her eight year old son, were, “Son never tell a lie,” and to her husband she gave directions, which will be written up in the future. Mrs. Yeiser was a fine scholar, polished writer, model teacher and one of the most untiring workers I have ever met. Since her husband has been building that massive church in this city, known as Allen Temple, she worked with a zeal and success that will ever be gratefully remembered, raising by solicitations alone hundreds of dollars and leading the membership with influence and not excelled by her able husband. Her husband takes her death with heart writhings inexpressible, and well he may, for her place cannot be fulfilled. As I am sure that other pens will trace the life and character of Mrs. Yeiser, I will close by saying that in the death of this great woman in the A.M.E. Church and the colored race lose one of their brightest gems, modest, retiring, yet learned, aggressive, defiant and daring when necessity demanded it.

Plain Words on Plain Topics: July 1, 1886

Plain Words on Plain Topics

Christian Recorder: July 1, 1886


Mr. Editor: - I beg to inform some of the brethren who have written some excoriating letters about not replying immediately to their letters and telegrams, &c., that I am rarely at home. I live mostly on the cars and when your letters are forwarded to me, you rarely ever stop me at a place where it is convenient to write and if I have any convenience I am besieged all the time by talkers. Then when I reach home, I am usually so exhausted that I can scarcely command strength to write before I am called away again. I want to hear no more about big, fat, lazy Bishops as a hint to me. There is not a man that lives who is more busy day and night than I am. I am always on the go, yet I cannot answer half of the demands upon my time and feeble talents. Some of us begged at our last General Conference to make two or three more Bishops, but being penny wise and pound foolish, they refused to do it. The cry was,” We can’t pay them” just as though Bishops could not take their chances with the rest of the ministers. If the Church of God has to suffer on account of a few cents at our hands then the sooner we die the better, and let God raise up men with grace and sense enough to run his Church. 

But the theory itself is abominable in the extreme. The machinery should be provided for the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ and let the support follow as it ought and will. Had we not attempted to thrust national and State finances upon our Church, and legislate as though there was no God in Israel, our Church to-day would have been able to support thirty Bishops, twenty-five at least, and a hundred other good enterprises. Trusting in God is almost a thing of the past, both in our annual and General Conferences; but unless we return to a throne of grace and recognize the great Head of the Church, and legislate in practice as well as theory, our Church will go to the wall. I have almost become to deprecate an annual conference, for the reason that after you have prayed, advised, counseled, considered and discussed with the presiding elders the merits and fitness of the ministers for this and that place, until you think that you have exhausted every phase of light that God and nature could ever impart and make out the appointments to the best of all judgment that heaven can afford, you find you have just opened the floodgates of grumbles, whines, and complaints, to be pursued and harassed all the year with letters to the effect that “you just sent me here to punish me.” “I don’t know what you had against me.” “I know I am as good as brother B, who is corrupt anyhow.” “When I came here this work was torn all to pieces.” “My wife and children will starve this year.” “Can’t you send me a transfer to some other conference?” And such like glossology comes almost weekly from some men; yet, when you drop in there upon them, you find they never attend Sabbath school, never have a revival, never lead a prayer meeting, never preach without quarrelling, hinting, insinuating, abusing or throwing out risible puns which will kill any church, &c., instead of going willingly to work trying to increase what has been committed to their charge. There are scores of men coming into our conferences for no other purpose than to secure what they call good places at the expense of some other person, and even when given such places they cannot hold them, for a man who cannot build a church cannot hold one successfully; and a minister who sits down all the year grumbling and berating somebody about his appointment, has about as much “trust God” in his soul as arsenic in his stomach.

I wish to say, in this connection, that I cannot answer any August calls. The doctors are constantly telling me that unless I suspend my arduous labors I cannot live much longer. I am not at many services, at best; yet I know the condition of our Church well enough to know we have no Bishop to spare before some others are made; after that we might spare a few of us very conveniently, if not profitably, me particularly, if I am the youngest on the Bench, for no one can deny that I am old in hard work. However, if it will please God to spare me to celebrate my thirtieth marriage anniversary which will come on the 31st of August, and see another General Conference, I will be thankful. I do not see any reason why I should not get married again, as well as several others in their old age, for my wife was sour enough when I refused to re-marry her at our twenty-fifth anniversary, and if I let the thirtieth pass, she may turn to pickle, and as I do not like pickle, I will try and perpetuate the same old “Hun.” I am going to invite all the ministers, their wives, colored statesmen, editors, politicians, etc., etc., to my wedding and get the city park of Atlanta to hold the guests, for if they all come, it is about the only place that will accommodate the people. Should it rain that night we may just step under the clouds and keep as dry as we can. A fine supper will be provided, composed of tin cups and artesian water, as our artesian well will be finished at that time. It will be a grand treat to get water from 2,300 feet below the surface. President Cleveland did not have it for his wedding, surely my guests will not ask me to do more than beat the President of the United States in providing for their stomachs, as we propose to have plenty and to spare. No one shall go away without being full.

Pardon the length of this letter, I did not intend to write half as much. I am truly H. M. Turner.



P.S. A few weeks ago, you, Mr. Editor, called my attention to a great trouble existing in our Church in North Carolina. I have since been through North Carolina and find no such trouble as you apprehended at all. The Church is moving on there about as well as elsewhere. So says every presiding elder in the State, and so my own observations would indicate. So it seems to be a false alarm in the aggregate.




H.M.T.
       

Bishop Turner's Scheme: February 15, 1893

Bishop Turner's Scheme
Washington Post: February 15, 1893

The Negro cannot remain here as a permanent factor and occupy his present ignoble status. The Negro problem has only one solution, and that is for the negro to return to African in sufficient numbers to build up a civilized country of his own, develop the resources of that continent establish commerce with the civilized nations of the world and impart his civilizations and Christianity to his brethren in heathen Africa, and thus answer the ends for which God tolerated his temporary enslavement and contact with this giant white race.

This is the only solution to the Negro problem: anything else is humbug and nonsense. All the Negro wants is a line of steamers between the South and Africa and he wants to solve his own problem and at the same time enrich the South beyond the conception of imagination. No injustice, oppression, railroad discrimination, denial of the ballot, the ruling of the jury, or species of lynch law will ever solve the Negro problem. A line of African steamships alone can do it and until that line is established and self-reliant and manly Negro, as well as the mean and vicious black man, will be a thorn in the flesh of the country.

You may send Negroes to the pen until half of them are convicts but it will do no good. They will still be a menace to the country. For God has a purpose to serve in the Negro and the white man must help him serve it and any subterfuge is simply bosh. Europe can keep a hundred and seventy-odd ships nearly all steamers, hugging the shores of Africa the year round, and this country can keep but two little old sailing schooners, going once in six months, except a whiskey craft which goes out of Boston occasionally, laden down with hundreds of gallons of the most deadly drug, commonly called whiskey--a stuff that never saw the stillhouse and destructive to life as is possible.

The Negro Problem: February 12, 1893

The Negro Problem
New York Times: February 12, 1893

Atlanta, Ga. Feb. 11. – Bishop Henry M. Turner of the African Methodist Church, who is about to start on his visitation of the missions in Africa, makes a strong appeal for the return of the colored race to the African continent. He says:

“The Negro cannot remain here as a permanent factor and occupy his present ‘ignoble status.’ The Negro problem has only one solution, and that is for the Negro to return to Africa in sufficient numbers to build up a civilized country of his own, develop the resources of that continent, establish commerce with the civilized nations of the world, and impart his civilization and Christianity to his brethren in heathen Africa, and thus answer the ends for which God tolerated his temporary enslavement and contact with this giant white race.

“That is the only solution of the Negro problem; anything else is humbug and nonsense. All the Negro wants is a line of steamers between the South and Africa, and he will solve his own problem and at the same time enrich the South beyond the conception of imagination. No injustice, oppression, railroad discrimination, denial of the ballot, the ruling of the jury, or species of lynch law will ever solve the negro problem. A line of African steamships alone can do it, and until that line is established the self-reliant and manly Negro, as well as the mean and vicious black man, will be a thorn in the flesh of the country.

“You may send Negroes to the pen until half of them are convicts, but it will do no good. They will still be a menace to the country. God has a purpose to serve in the Negro, and the white man must help him to serve it, and any subterfuge is simply bosh. Europe can keep a hundred and seventy odd ships, nearly all steamers, hugging the shores of Africa the year round, and this country can keep but two little old sailing schooners, going once in six months, except a whisky craft, which goes out of Boston occasionally laden down with hundreds of gallons of the most deadly drug, commonly called whisky – a stuff that never saw the stillhouse, and as destructive to life as is possible.”