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.

Regina Clarke

Regina Clarke is currently the Director of Retention & Student Success and Adjunct Instructor at Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies (MCUTS @ LBC). She earned a Bachelor of Theology from Washington Baptist Theological Seminary where she was elected the first female Student Government President. Following graduation, she continued her studies at The Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University where she simultaneously earned a Masters of Christian Education and Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Ethics and Social/Restorative Justice. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Communication focusing on rhetoric, ethics, and social justice. 

StaLynn Davis

StaLynn Davis is a current Ph.D. student at the University of Memphis in the History department. Her research centers on women and religion in the nineteenth-century United States, particularly enslaved women, with the hope of incorporating digital humanities into her research.

Professionally, StaLynn has worked in higher education as an adjunct instructor and in academic advising, student services, and residence life. She has a passion for helping students reach their highest potential both in and out of the classroom.

StaLynn earned her M.A. in History with a Public History concentration from the University of Illinois-Springfield where she served a two-year appointment as a graduate assistant for the Papers of Abraham Lincoln. StaLynn was also awarded the Outstanding Master’s Thesis for History in 2015. She received her B.A. in History from Quincy University.

Bishop Turner for Bryan: September 11, 1900

Bishop Turner for Bryan
New York Times: September 11, 1900

SAVANNAH, Ga., Sept. 10 – Bishop H. M. Turner of the African Methodist Church denies the report that he will take the stump in favor of the election of Mr. Bryan. In an interview to-day he says:

“I am not a Democrat, never have been one, and never expect to be, and I have no intention of stumping the country for Mr. Bryan. I dislike Mr. McKinley and the attitude which he has assumed toward the negro, and I intend to vote for Mr. Bryan in the belief that any change is better than none. This is no new change of heart with me. For sixteen years I have been cooling toward the Republican Party, ever since the decision of the Supreme Court which practically held that a negro had no civil rights From that date to this the decisions of the Supreme Court have been against the negro where a question of his political or civil rights was involved. I have heard of one instance where the Supreme Court held in the case of a negro from Texas that he was entitled to trial by jury of his peers, that is, one composed at least partly of negroes, but I have not verified this. The Supreme Court has practically decitizenized the negro and has nullified the amendments to the Constitution. I don’t know what Mr. Bryan’s views are on these questions which affect the negro race, but I believe that he is a man of sufficient honesty to use his influence in behalf of right and justice. Mr. McKinley has done nothing for the negro except to appoint a few of them to office.”

From “Must the Negro Go?,” by William Henry Thorne in A New Review of World-Literature, Society Religion Art and Politics. Decker Building, New York, 1899

From “Must the Negro Go?,” by William Henry Thorne in A New Review of World-Literature, Society Religion Art and Politics. Decker Building, New York, 1899

"There can be no question that the future of the negro race lies in Africa, the richest country on the face of the globe and the natural home of the negro. It has simply come down to extermination or emigration.

"Why? Simply from the fact that statistics show that the negro race is dying out. The several causes for this would make interesting reading were I at liberty to name them, but this I cannot do at this time.

"The negro race is not, in this country, growing healthier, wealthier, happier, wiser, or anything else which goes to make life worth living.

"God, in His infinite goodness and wisdom, made Africa for the negro and the negro for Africa. I believe this just as much as I do that the sun shines.

"Africa proffers the greatest possibilities on earth for the negro to emigrate to, that is if he has any idea of being anything this side of the day of general account giving.

"Even nature is invoking the American negro to return to his God-given home. The trade winds which once blew from three to four hundred miles out to sea, from the west coast of Africa, have mysteriously changed their course, and are now fanning the shores, moderating the equatorial climate, diminishing the heat and humidity, and driving away the death-dealing fevers and malaria.

"I believe this is simply God preparing Africa for the reception of her children who are suffering in this country, and who must return sooner or later.

"The colored race can never be more than hewers of wood and drawers of water in this country, the master race, the white race, will always reign supreme.

"John Temple Graves, a gentleman for whom I have the highest regard, said in one of his speeches that the negro would never be allowed to control in this country, even where he had a majority. He also said that the price of his peace was his subordination, and that never would the negro be recognized as a social or political equal. This being true, how can the negro ever hope in this country to attain the full stature of a citizen or a man?"

"Has the African emigration scheme met the approval of a majority of the negro race?" was asked.

"No indeed; but, on the contrary, a lot of ignorant negroes have opposed it from its very inception. They prate about the sickness of Africa and many other things of which they know nothing.

"The thoughtful and intelligent of the white race indorse the emigration policy, and it will yet prove a success and of untold blessing to the negro race. It will be remembered that not more than one-third of the children of Israel ever came out of Egypt. The other two-thirds were exterminated. This will be the final outcome of the American negro if he remains here."

Negro Emigration to Africa: From The Independent Vol. LI, January-December 1899

Negro Emigration to Africa
From The Independent Vol. LI, January-December 1899, pgs.2430-2432

To the Editor of the Independent:

In your editorial mention of the propositions of Bishop Turner and Bishop L.H. Holsey, D. D., I am represented as favoring the deportation of the American negroes to Africa. If you mean by deportation the compulsive exodus of my race to Africa en masse, I most respectfully beg to plead “not guilty.” I would be a fit subject for the insane asylum if my mind was so far out of equipoise. But that I am as an African emigrationist is lamentably true. I say lamentably, because nothing confronts the negro race in this country but emigration or extermination. The African race in this country can no more hope to stand up under the present pressure than a man could hope to shoulder and walk off with the Rocky Mountains. And any white man who thinks so has only to blacken his face and travel a few days through the country, and he will be surprised that any negro or African, who has good common sense, and is not a scullion by birth or environments during his childhood and youth, should ever dream of making himself and his posterity contented under the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, and a thousand subordinate judges and the endless quantity of legislative enactments and state constitutional amendments that have been passed to degrade and tie him and his posterity to the wheel that rolls in degradation. And lest you should be ignorant of some of these decisions and enactments, I forward you a few decreed by the United States Supreme Court, the most barbarous and inhuman that have emanated from any court of the last resort since man came into being. I have been reading history for forty-eight years, and I challenge any man living to produce the like in the chronicles of the world. You say the scheme is futile. I realize its futility without national help, which God will surely demand as its hand sooner or later. The negro has been too faithful to this country, its integrity, unity, perpetuity and its every interest, to be kicked aside without some remuneration. History records our fidelity to the white race in colonial times, during the Revolutionary War and in every struggle for existence from its birth to the present. And if it cannot accord us manhood existence. Like the Egyptians of old, it must lend us of its precious jewels to enable the better element of the race to go to themselves. I do not mean for all to go. All of the children of Israel did not go out of Egypt; according to the best authorities, possibly half of them remained and were lost, wither by extermination or were swallowed up in the waters of mankind. So it will be with the colored people of this country; all will never leave; but millions will, and millions are ready now if they had the facility. I know the sentiment of the colored people on the subject of emigration as no other man upon the American continent. I have barrels and barrels of letters upon that subject, while I have destroyed stacks and barrels of others that I had no convenient place to keep. If this country had ships plying between here and Africa, as England, France and Germany have, and we could go as cheaply, thousands would be leaving yearly.

During the last thirty years six millions of immigrants have come to this country and but few have paid over fifteen dollars each. The general price including children would average twelve dollars each. If we had such conveniences between here and Africa the emigration would be immense; not only from the South, but from the Northern and Western States. I know whereof I speak. Much absurdity has been attributed to the one hundred millions of dollars that we proposed to ask Congress for, to enable the better element of the colored race to leave the country. I see no reason for making it the subject of so much ridicule and laughter. According to one of your own New York papers, nine hundred millions of dollars have already been spent in bothering with Spain and her possessions; and billions will yet be spent before the question is settled. Had Congress appropriated on hundred and five millions of colored people money, seven millions of colored people could return to Africa at an average of fifteen dollars each; and soon hundreds of ships would be trading with the United States, and in two generations the hundred and five millions would be returned to the national treasury with a reasonable interest besides. I verily believe that a hundred millions of dollars invested in helping the better element of the negro race to establish a nation would be more profitable to this country than a billion spent on Spanish islands. It is only two hundred and fifty miles further from Savannah, Ga., or Charleston, S. C., to Liberia, Africa, than from New York to Liverpool, the way the ships run; and I believe when a direct line shall have been determined upon by the navigators, the distance will be almost equal. And if millions of immigrants can come from the Old World at an average of twelve dollars each, fifteen dollars should be amply sufficient to convey emigrants to Africa. And I believe at least a million are ready to pay that price now, if the ships were provided, either by Government aid or commercial intercourse. Much has been said and published about the negro not desiring to return to Africa, but let those who entertain such views start a line of steamers and offer emigrant rates to those who desire to return and they will see that every ship is crowded. Europe has over five hundred steamships plying between the United States and Europe, daily, the year round, and not one between the United States and Africa; so that all who desire to emigrate there have to go by Liverpool or Southampton, England, and pay passenger rates, which will cost one individual as much as it should cost the members of a large family. I have also read a number of scurrilous criticisms by the public press upon African emigration, because some of the colored people who have gone there in the past have returned and berated the country and magnified its fevers and other fatal diseases; but no one will attach any importance to such misrepresentations who has read the history of the early settlements of this country, Australia and South American States. But I conclude by saying: African emigration is the only remedy for disturbed condition of things in this country.

Atlanta, Ga.

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