Bishop Turner on Africa
New York Age: February 20, 1892
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the AME Church arrived in the city Sunday from Philadelphia and left last night en route to Atlanta, Ga. He appeared in good health having recovered from his recent attack of the grip and spoke in the liveliest vein of Africa.
Q. What are your impressions of Africa, Bishop?
It is a rich and grand country. Everything that the hand of Nature could provide for man is there except apples and a few vegetables that require frost. All kinds of animals and fowl seem to be able to exist there. Horses and mules are scarce because the people don’t take care of them when they then; besides the native labor is so abundant and cheap that the need for horse labor is scarcely felt. The country is in great want of skilled labor and cooperative business enterprises. So far as the natural resources of Africa are concerned, they are literally indefinite.
People going there must necessarily pass through an accumulating change which is productive of fever more or less severe according to the condition of the individual’s constitution. If immigrants would land and go back sixty miles or more into the country and get away from malaria that is indigenous to the coast, thousands would never suffer…..The people are open for instruction and can retain all kinds of information…as few people on the earth ever could. The highest grade of African tribes are the grandest people my eyes ever beheld—not artificially grand by virtue of dress and ornamentation, but grand in their structure, beauty, symmetry, and intellectual capacity.
Q. Are you as enthusiastic about Africa now Bishop as you were before you visited the country?
I am doubly enthusiastic….I still maintain that the hope of the black man’s future is either in Africa or in connection with it. I oppose however to the system of emigration as it has been carried out by the American Colonization Society. I mean, taking any class of colored people, whether they have money or not and shipping them over to Africa to be stranded and scattered along the coast in many instances and through the swamps to contend with a most distinctive malaria which either proves fatal or so exhausts the system as to leave them lingering wrecks for a long time allowing many of them to return to this country and tell a horrible story about the vicissitudes of the African climate when they have traveled over five miles of African territory and that of the most obnoxious kind. If the Colonization Society would send emigrants from twenty-five to a hundred miles back into the interior where the lands are high…..I shall urge the Colonization Society to either stop sending emigrants or provide some high healthy location back thirty miles from the coast where they can acclimate. So far as seeing anything to discourage emigration to Africa of the better class, self-reliant American Negro, I see vast possibilities in store for his wealth and greatness that I had no conception of before I went to Africa. A few of us could survive in this country and put streamers on the….. St. Paul and St. John rivers and make not only a living but a decent fortune in a few years. A railroad running back seventy-five or a hundred miles from Monrovia, Liberia, Grand Bates, Cape Palmas or Sierra Leone would be productive….especially if the railroad ran through the coal region thirty miles in the rear of Monrovia. The only reason why Liberia has been brought into such disrepute is that the great body of emigrants going there….have attempted to huddle in or about Monrovia or some other town instead of going out and settling where the lands are high and the water and atmosphere pure.
Q. What places did you visit?
I visited Sierra Leone, Monrovia, Muhlenberg Mission, York Island and other native towns several miles beyond.
Q. Why did you come back to America so soon?
I did not come back any sooner than I had arranged to come. I left here to be gone for three months and a few days. I remained in Africa long enough to organize two annual conferences one in Sierra Leone and one and ordain a large number of ministers and assigned them to their fields of labor. I preached and lectured at a number of places which occupied five weeks and feeling that my work was about finish I returned home having done all that I saw to do at the time.
Q. Did you catch fever while there?
Yes, I had African fever for three days after I have gotten through with my work.
Q. Do you expect to make another trip to Africa?
I do not know. That will depend on the arrangement our General Conference will make when it meets in Philadelphia next May. If I had the money and time I would return to Africa at once and ordain another elder to take the place of Rev. T. R. Geda who has died since I left.
Q. Will you advise the colored people as a mass to go to Africa?
No, I never will. There are many scullion Negroes who have neither the sense nor the self-reliance to fit them for Africa. Africa needs men who can manage and govern themselves and make a living on their own might and not seek service places and employment as hirelings. There are millions of natives there whom you can hire for a very small pittance and they will do more hard work in a day than two of our ordinary men could do in this country. African needs masters and not servants. I mean men who can think, plan, devise, project measures and thus develop the country and enrich themselves.
Q. Then there is a future in America for those who remain here?
Yes, there is a future for those here as menials, scullions, servants, subordinates, and underlings; but a future of full-fledged manhood and womanhood is a long distance off, to say the least.