Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T » Turner, J. Milton(1840–1915) - Consul, politician, Chronology, Continues Civil Rights Struggles

Interest in Education for Blacks

turner schools civil vote

Turner became a spokesman for black education. He became involved in the American Missionary Association (AMA) that established free schools for blacks. The AMA started these schools in St. Louis, but they were adopted in all the states. After he married, beginning in April 1886, Turner taught in Kansas City. The AMA enlisted the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau that, in turn, asked Turner to assist with a program to evaluate black schools. Turner established and taught in schools for blacks in many locations. He also investigated the health of black schools and education in Missouri. He asserted the need for trained teachers, especially black teachers in black schools. When he visited Lincoln Institute, the first public black institution or normal school in Missouri, he became particularly committed to equal education. Turner believed that the same laws that governed and maintained white schools should govern black schools. He campaigned for black education all over the state.

Turner worked several jobs, but he was interested in politics. Returning to Missouri as an educated black man, he had worked as a porter from 1859 to 1860. During the Civil War, he worked as a body servant to Colonel Madison Miller, a member of the Union Army. He thought that he witnessed Colonel Miller’s death, so he turned over Miller’s money in his keeping to Miller’s wife. On Miller’s safe return from the war, Turner was rewarded. His official introduction to politics resulted from his honesty. He met Mrs. Miller’s brother, Thomas H. Fletcher, who was involved in the Radical Republican Party. Turner believed that the Radical Republicans would serve the interest of the black people by extending civil liberties to them.

Turner was involved in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape from the South to the North. His interest in civil rights continued when he became involved in the Missouri Equal Rights League in 1865. He became secretary for the association in 1871. He was known for his promotion of political equality for blacks and equal educational opportunities. As an active member of the Equal Rights League, Turner worked to convince whites to vote for an amendment to the voting law that prevented black suffrage. He lobbied through the media. However, black suffrage did not occur until the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment was accepted. Blacks were able to vote freely for the first time in 1870. Turner helped mobilize blacks to vote although they were fearful because of racism, and there was also widespread illiteracy. In addition, he fought for blacks to be able to sit on juries. His absolute goal was the elimination of white biases and the establishment of racial equality.

Turner was drawn to the Radical Republicans whom he believed had genuine interest in the plight of the blacks. He helped to mobilize blacks to vote for Republicans because he was convinced that federal power would strengthen the position of the blacks. The Republicans depended on the black vote. Because he was closely affiliated with the Republicans, educated, and had interest in black civil liberties, Turner was chosen by President Grant to be the U.S. minister resident consul general to Liberia, where African Americans were being colonized.

When he entered Liberia in 1871, Turner was not prepared for his job. The United States wanted friendly relations with Liberia. But native Africans were opposed to the emigration of African Americans because the newcomers were given lands by the American-led Liberian government that belonged to natives. Issuing these lands to colonists caused tension that led to open revolt by the Grebo people. Turner criticized the United States for colonizing people who were virtually displaced without any provision for self-reliance. Turner encouraged integration with natives. He also suggested education as a means of nation building. After returning from a stay in the United States, where he went to recuperate from malaria, he was more convinced that the United States was neglecting its colonized people just as it neglected African Americans in the States. Turner returned to the United States in 1887 disillusioned with the federal government but still committed to fighting for black civil liberties.

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