Rev. Henry McNeal Turner was one of the most influential leaders during the late 19th century. He was recognized as a pioneering church organizer and missionary for the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Georgia whom would later reach the rank of bishop. Turner was outspoken and well-known for his views on the back-to-Africa emigration.
Turner was born in 1834 in Newberry Courthouse, South Carolina to Sarah Greer and Hardy Turner. His paternal grandmother was a white plantation owner, and his mother’s father arrived in the country aboard a slave ship and was to believed to have been Mandingo because of a distinguishing mark on his boy, signifying royalty. His maternal grandfather was never sold into slavery and instead was sent to live with a Quaker family.
While growing up in South Carolina, Turner, managed to receive an education. He was later employed by a law firm at the age of fifteen to janitorial work. The lawyer’s of the firm saw that Turner was able to get the best possible education to blacks at the time.
After obtaining his license to preach in 1853, Turner traveled throughout the South as an evangelist. He spent a lot of time in Georgia, where he set up revivals. He met and married Eliza Peacher and the two had fourteen children, however, only four of those children survived into adulthood.
Turner’s biggest fear was southern legislation threatening enslavement of free blacks. He dedicated five years to filling pastorates in Maryland and Washington, D.C. In 1863, he was instrumental in organizing the First Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops in his own churchyard.
In 1867, after Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts, Turner switched his energies to the political sphere. He helped organize Georgia’s Republican Party. Turner died on May 8, 1915, in Windsor, Canada, while traveling on church business.