May 8

Henry McNeal Turner

May 8, 1915 - Macon, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, Atlanta

Mixing religion and politics worked out well for Henry McNeal Turner.

Free-born in South Carolina in 1834, he was educated by white attorneys at a firm where he did janitorial work. Drawn to preaching, he led revivals in Macon, Athens, and Augusta. He pastored a church in Washington D.C., where he met Republican congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens. In 1863, Turner helped organize the first regiment of U.S. Colored Troops, and served as its chaplain.

After the war, Turner came back to Georgia and helped organize both the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Georgia’s Republican Party, despite fierce opposition from whites. During Reconstruction, Turner served in the 1867 Constitutional Convention and in the state legislature. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him Macon’s postmaster. He later pastored St. Philip’s AME Church in Savannah.

Turner is buried in Atlanta and his portrait hangs in the Georgia State Capitol. One of the 19th century’s most influential black leaders died on May 8, 1915, Today in Georgia History.