Bishop Turner Defends His Position: April 22, 1901

Bishop Turner Defends His Position As to Negro Criminals

Boston Evening Transcript: April 22, 1901


To the Editor of the Transcript:

I notice in your issue of April 10 that you very respectfully differ with me in regard to sending what you are pleased to call criminals to Africa, stating that the proposition does not strike you as either wise or attractive, from whichever end considered. You say further, that criminals of any race or color make poor colonists, and very unsatisfactory pioneers, that they do not take kindly to State building, etc.

If I were disposed to argue with you I think I could point out your mistake. I think I could show you where convicts or supposed criminals laid the foundation of what resulted in the Roman Empire, that penal convicts who were shipped to Australia and dumped off as brutes had built up a civilization that the world respects today. I think I could show you that supposed criminals had paved the way for the commerce and civilization of South America, and to be short, out of the millions of immigrants that come to this country annually, that thousands are turned out of prison in Europe with the understanding they will leave the continent and come to America. I have been all over Europe and am familiar with affairs, as they relate to people who come to this country. In some instances their way is paid by the Government to get rid of them, and yet as soon as they arrive, at one bound they mount infinitely higher than what the black man is, simply because they are white, though they may be as ignorant as monkeys and as immoral as corruption itself. I did say in my Macon address, from abridgement of which, telegraphed through the country, you have taken your exception, that it would be infinitely better if the States would banish their colored convicts of Africa than to keep thousands in prison, almost half of whom I believe were innocent of any crime. For I never will have much faith in the guilt of a man who is tried and convicted by men who think themselves distinct and superior to the men they are sitting in judgment upon. If black men were allowed to determine the guilt or innocence of black defendants, I would see the thing quite differently. But when they are not allowed to sit on the jury, to be judges or officers of the court in any respect, I am slow to admit their guilt, especially when I know that hundreds have been declared guilty of crimes that they never heard of. Yes, send them to Africa or anywhere else under heaven, where they can breathe free air and bask in the sunshine the few days that are allotted to us mortals.

You say, “the criminals would readily adopt the savagery which they would find there, and make it yet more terrible than it was before.” I beg to say that the wheels of civilization never roll backward. I know that much has been said and written in regard to a certain grade of Negroes returning to barbarism and savagery, but I have been from one end of the continent or Africa to the other, and have stopped at different ports from Morocco to Cape Town, and have been interiorward for twelve hundred miles; and I have been to Africa as many times as I have fingers upon my hand; and I have yet to see or hear of any class of colored people who were once civilized returning to barbarism. I know in a few instances in tropical Africa some have gone in a state of nudity or almost nude, but it was only a reach the people that went in that condition by assuming to be one of that number. But remember that many of these convicts that I referred to are not only innocent of the crimes that were manufactured against them, but are gentlemen of the highest type, many of whom have been educated and are consistent members of the Christian Church.

Yes, I am an African colonizationist. I see no future here for the black man. The Supreme Court of the United States has declared we have no civil rights, and it virtually carries with it our political rights. And more laws have been enacted by the different Legislatures, city and town municipalities, railroad and other corporations, and more judicial decisions have been rendered from the Supreme Court down through all grades of courts, against the Negro race, than has been made against any race of people since the world began. I believe that I can show more laws and court decisions to degrade what is commonly called the Negro race than have been made against all the races by all the nations of the earth. I know the persecutions the Jews and other peoples have been the victims of; but there are more laws and decisions against the Negro than all of them put together, and the fact that degradation has no end and hell has no bottom makes the prospect of the Negro in this country very gloomy and to me hopeless. The brightest star that could rise in the black man’s firmament would be for a line of steamers to be placed on the ocean to ply between the United States and Africa. Such a line of steamers would solve the Negro problem, for millions would leave the country and pay as much for transportation as the paupers of Europe pay to come to this country. A line of steamers from here to Africa is what at least between three and four millions of colored people are longing for. And we believe that God will send them soon.

H. M. TURNER

Atlanta, Ga. April 17.