February 1, 1833 Henry McNeal Turner, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born in Newberry Courthouse, South Carolina.
At that time, the law prohibited a black child to be taught to read or write, therefore Turner taught himself. In 1853, he received his license to preach and during the Civil War was appointed a chaplain to one of the first regiments of black troops.
After the war, Turner became a proponent of the Back to Africa movement and he traveled to Africa where he was struck by the differences in the attitude of Africans who had never known the degradation of slavery. Turner also preached that God was black, stating “We have as much right biblically and otherwise to believe that God is a Negro, as you buckra or White people have to believe that God is a fine looking, symmetrical and ornamented White man.”
Turner died May 8, 1915 and a number of churches are named in his honor, including Turner Chapel in Ontario, Canada and Turner Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. Also, Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta and Henry McNeal Turner Learning Academy in West Park, Florida are named in his honor. Turner’s biography, “Life and Times of Henry M. Turner,” was published in 1917 and “Respect Black!: Writings and Speeches of Henry M. Turner” was published in 1971.
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