Bishop Turner Replies to Some Charges Made Against Him
Atlanta Constitution: March 8, 1892
“In The Constitution today,” he said yesterday, “I am charged with being the principal agent who has thrown upon the charitable institutions of New York two parties or gangs of would-be colored emigrants, who are endeavoring to get to Africa. I have noticed several charges to this effect in your paper and others. Up to the present time, however, I gave them no notice. I know they were all mistaken, and I was charitable enough to believe that it was not done intentionally. But I feel now that I ought to make some reply in order that my position may be clearly known.
It is true that I left here the first of last fall on a trip to the continent of Africa, which place I succeeded in reaching; traveled 1,800 miles along the African coast and went eighty miles back into the interior, from one point, and nearly fifty miles from another. I mingled with the civilized and what is called the heathen African, very extensively, and I did write up my observations and the scenes which presented themselves to me. My writings consisted of fourteen lengthy letters, published in our two church organs, and copied quite liberally by the colored press, and frequently referred to by the white papers. The question that seems to be disturbing the public peace is, did I go as an agent of the colonization society or did I go as an agitator of the repatriation of the Negro to Africa or did I go to spy out the land and return, and, like a second Joshua or Caleb, report the results of my investigations? Permit me to say to all concerned, that while I am as certain as of my existence that the black man, who is a man, will sooner or later return to Africa; and that it is the will and purpose of God that he shall do so, and that no power on earth can contravene it, I care not what men may do, write or say, yet I did not visit Africa with any view of accelerating this inexorable providential ultimatum.
I have eagerly desired to visit Africa for nearly twenty years, but my wife’s objections and tears prevented me; but when she went to heaven a few years ago I resolved to gratify this long-cherished wish, and, while endeavoring to find spare time to make the trip, the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal church, of which I am a feeble member, in their annual council at Jacksonville, Fla., appointed me to visit Africa and look after our mission work upon that continent. In compliance with this episcopal order I went to Africa, visited a number of our mission stations, organized two annual conferences, ordained nineteen preachers to the sacred ministry, assigned them to their fields of labor, and, in the meantime, took observations of the country. When my contemplated trip to Africa because somewhat known, some of the leading papers of the country offered me hundreds of dollars to become their correspondent and write up my travels and observations for their columns, and I resolved to accept a five-hundred-dollar proposition at one time; but finally, becoming apprehensive that something I might write would likely be contorted into a misrepresentation and create an unnecessary babble, I declined every proffer and concluded to correspond with our church papers only.
Now, how any person can charge me or my letters with creating the excitement which has caused hundreds of colored men and women to collect in New York is an inexplicable problem. While I am an African repatriationist, because I believe God himself sanctions it, I will, nevertheless, give any man a hundred dollars if he will point out one paragraph, sentence or phrase in any of the fourteen letters I wrote in Africa, and which have been published in this country, where I have advised any living man or woman to leave this country and go to Africa; for I was careful in all my letters to avoid that particular point, as I knew my opinions were well known, and many fossiliferous thinkers in my church were bitterly opposed to them. But I did narrate my observations. I did write about the cities, towns, villages, houses, huts, churches, dress, fruits, cattle, birds, habits of the people, mountains, valleys, rivers, minerals, climate, schools, both along the coast and back in the interior, with some delineations. And I did say, and still say, that after traveling over three continents, I had seen no section of the globe to compare with Africa. I did say, it is the future paradise of the world and that any negro who would go to Africa and return here and vilify the country is a scullion of the lowest order. Nevertheless I said, and still do, that Africa is no place now for the improvident portion of the colored race. Black men going to Africa need a few hundred dollars upon their arrival, common sense, business tact, and a large amount of self-reliance. The class of people who have turned up in New York, if I have been correctly informed, is about the last portion of my race I would have advised to go to Africa. Africa is the easiest place to live under heaven if you have a few hundred dollars to start with; but it is a hard place for a pauper, whatever be his color.
If the colored people huddled in New York became allured with my African letters, and formed a band of mendicants to menace the charitable institutions there, it is traceable to their ignorance and not to my folly.
If my African emigration passion was so intense, I could get thousands of dollars a year from a steamship company on the other side of the Atlantic to collect emigrants at Charleston, Savannah or New Orleans, but I have refused the offer, and would do so again. Yet I do yearn for a line of steamships between here and Africa, so that black and white could go and come at their pleasure. If Europe can keep 172 steamships hugging the coast of Africa the year round, and reaping hundreds of millions of dollars by it, the United States might keep two steamships running at last, and allow the black man, who is able to pay his way, to go and come at his pleasure. If my race had decent, practical sense, they would band together and appropriate some of the money they spend at those liquor brothels and purchase a few steamships and engage in African traffic, which would make colored millionaires in a few years.
I beg to say to the people of New York, as they have that herd of colored people on their hands, they had just as well open their pockets and send them on to Africa as to be wasting time talking about them, for this nation has got to come to it sooner or later, and the sooner congress opens its eyes to its duty. In this connection the sooner peace and quiet will come to this nation.
This country can no more smother this unrest of the black man, which is the product of Divine Providence, than it can smother the fires of Vesuvius. The sooner the manipulators and manufacturers of public sentiment awake be solved and God’s plans be put into execution.
White people by the hundreds are pouring into Africa, woman and men. I saw white ladies from the United States teaching schools nearly a hundred miles in the interior, looking well and pleased with their work, and if white ladies can go there and spend years and some lifetime teaching and enlightening the heathen African, why cannot the descendants of Africa go? You advise the colored people to remain here where they can be brought in contact with their white neighbors and friends, but they need not remain simply for that, as they will find scores and hundreds of white people in Africa. Nearly every English ship going there is carrying them from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas, and they will fight a white lady, forty miles in the interior, from Baton Rouge, La., at the head of an excellent school.
The only fear I have is that the white people are going to take Africa away from us; for all this talk about white people being unable to live in Africa is bosh.
Now, while my opinions have been known for a long time and have been severely criticized by a portion of the colored press of the country, no one can point to a living man or woman that I have advised to go to Africa. “But they are going all the same.”