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This Day in Georgia History

February 01, 1834

Henry McNeal Turner Born

To view an image of Henry McNeal Turner, see the Digital Library of Georgia.

Black religious leader, educator, and politician Henry McNeal Turner was born in Newberry, South Carolina. Born to free parents, he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in his teens and was ordained to preach at age 19. In the 1850s, Turner held numerous revivals for blacks in southern states before moving to St. Louis and joining the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. He attended Trinity College (1860-62) and was assigned to a Washington D.C. congregation. In 1863, Turner became the first African-American chaplain in U.S. history when he volunteered to become chaplain of the First Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops. At the end of the Civil War, he became a Freedman’s Bureau agent in Georgia – but he resigned after a year and began trying to build the AME church in Georgia. In 1867, Turner became involved in attempting to organize black voters for the National Republican Party. Four million copies of a pamphlet he wrote were distributed across the South. Later that year, Turner was selected as a member of Georgia’s constitutional convention. In 1868, he was elected to Georgia state house of representatives, and reelected in 1870. In 1880, Turner became an AME bishop, with responsibility for Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. He also became chancellor of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. From the 1870s to the early 1900s, Turner became an advocate for black immigration to Africa and for expansion of the AME church there. He died May 8, 1915 in Windsor, Ontario.