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Turner, Henry McNeal (1834-1915)

Black Nationalist, repatriationist, and minister, Henry M. Turner was 31 years old at the time of the Emancipation. Turner was born in 1834 in Newberry Courthouse, South Carolina to free black parents Sarah Greer and Hardy Turner. The self-taught Turner by the age of fifteen worked as a janitor at a law firm in Abbeville, South Carolina. The firm’s lawyers noted his abilities and helped with his education. However, Turner was attracted to the church and after being converted during a Methodist religious revival, decided to become a minister. He joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and became a licensed minister in 1853 at the age of 19. Turner soon became an itinerant evangelist traveling as far as New Orleans, Louisiana. By 1856 he married Eliza Peacher, the daughter of a wealthy African American house builder in Columbia, South Carolina. The couple had fourteen children but only four of them survived into adulthood.

In 1858 Turner entered Trinity College in Baltimore, Maryland where he studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew and theology. Two years later he became the pastor of the Union Bethel Church in Washington, D.C. Turner cultivated friendships with important Republican Congressional figures including Ohio Congressman Benjamin Wade, Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner. Turner had already become a national figure when in 1863 at the age of 29 he was appointed by President Lincoln to the position of Chaplain in the Union Army. Turner was attached to 1st Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops, making him the first African American chaplain in the history of the United States Army.

After the Civil War, Turner returned to Georgia and quickly became active in Reconstruction-era politics. In 1867 he organized for the Republican Party in Georgia and the following year was elected a delegate to the Georgia State Constitutional Convention. In the same year he was also elected to the Georgia State Legislature. Although 27 African Americans were elected

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