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

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