Biologist, Educator, and Catholic
Born March 16, 1877 (Hughsville, Maryland),
Thomas Wyatt Turner, one of nine children, was the son of Eli
and Linnie Gross Turner, both former slaves. His father, until
his death, was a sharecropper. He died when Thomas was eight
years old. Thomas attended Episcopal local schools in that
Catholic schools refused to admit him. He walked fifty miles to
attend Howard preparatory school.
Educator, Graduate Study, & Government
Thomas received his A.B. from Howard
University in 1901, and spent the following year at Tuskegee
Institute, Alabama, as teacher of biology. After a year he
returned to Maryland as teacher in the Baltimore High School for
Negroes (1902-1910), meanwhile continuing his studies for his
M.A., which he received from Howard University in 1905. In 1917
Turner married Laura Miller, who died in the 1920s.
After eight years' experience in the
Baltimore public high school, Turner taught for a year in the
St. Louis High School, but returned to Baltimore in 1911, where
he remained for three more years. From 1914 to 1924, he was
Professor of Botany at Howard University and also served from
1914 to 1920 as Acting Dean at the Howard's School of Education.
During the summer months from 1916 to 1921, Turner studied at
Cornell University, where he received in 1921 his Ph.D. in
Botany, His dissertation was entitled "Studies of the
Mechanism of the Physiological Effects of certain Mineral Salts
in Altering the Ratio of Top Growth to Root Growth in Seed
Plants." His thesis was eventually published in the American
Journal of Botany.
Turner wanted to attend Catholic University
of America, but it was segregated at the time and he was not
granted admittance. In 1976 Catholic University of America,
however, awarded Turner an honorary degree. He was then 99 years
old. preparing for his earned doctorate at Cornell, Turner did
graduate work at several universities and related institutions.
Among them were Johns Hopkins, Columbia, the University of
Rochester, and the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Turner was
indeed the first African-American to receive a doctorate from
Cox, the first black math Ph.D. was the second black to earn
a doctorate from Cornell.
While working on his dissertation, Turner
worked as cytologist (a cell biologist). During the year 1918,
he did special work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in
Maine, where he examined potato fields. The American government
consulted Turner throughout his career about agricultural
problems. Under the auspices of the United States Secretary of
Agriculture, Turner worked as a collaborator on Virginia's plant
From 1924 to 1945, Turner was a professor in
the Botany Department at Hampton Institute in Virginia and
during this period became the head of the department. Forced to
retire in 1945 because of glaucoma, Turner held emeritus
professor status until his death in 1978. At Hampton, Turner
advanced Hampton's natural science curriculum. For his service
Hampton in 1977, renamed its science building Turner Hall.
Social Activism & Federated Colored
Interested in more than a career as educator
and researcher, Turner's work, curiously, as an activist, has
overshadowed his many scientific accomplishments. A member in
the founder (1909) of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Turner served as a leader
in the Baltimore and Washington branches and was president of
the NAACP Phoebus, Virginia, branch. Throughout the 1920s,
Turner was active in the black voter registration movement. he
was honored with a NAACP life-time membership.
Dr. Turner was active in Catholic
organizations and in societies for the advancement of the Negro.
He founded in 1925 the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC), an
organization, national in scope, composed of catholic Negroes
who placed their services at the disposal of the Church for
whatever good they were able to effect in the solution of the
problems facing the group in Church and country.
FCC's intent was to fight racism and
segregation in the Catholic Church and promote racial harmony.
Turner was president until 1934. Contrary to his desire, the FCC
was forcibly made part of the Catholic Interracial council in
1933. The group lost its focus and power after the mid-1930s,
although the organization retained its identity until 1958.
Turner, remained a loyal member of the catholic Church. in 1976,
the Secretariat of Washington, D.C.'s Black Catholics named its
highest award for Turner. the Thomas Wyatt Turner Award has
become an annual honor. Turner was also Supreme Color Bearer of
the knights of St. John.
Leader of Scientific Societies and
Turner was also a member of a number of
scientific societies, including the American Association for the
Advance of Science, the Botany Society of America, and the
Virginia Academy of the American Phylopathological Society. In
1931, Turner organized the Virginia Conference of College
Science Teachers in 1931, and served as president of that group
for two terms. From 1942 through 1943 he studied science
teaching at at 32 colleges and produced several papers on the
Turner was the first black man to present a
paper to the Virginia Academy of Science, and for many years, he
was its only black member south of Philadelphia. Turner was also
a founder of The National Institute of Science and the
organization's first president. He was also a member of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science and the
American Society of Horticultural Science.
After his retirement from Hampton, Turner
continued to work in the collegiate science community. He was a
consultant at Florida Normal College from 1947-48 and from 1949
to 1950 he worked at Texas Southern University. Turner organized
its biology department and served as a consultant to the
University's president who was a professor of biology. In
addition Turner worked as a speaker on radio programs of the
Columbia Broadcasting System.
On April 21, 1978, at the age of 101 in a
Washington, D.C., hospital, Turner died. Married in 1936, Turner
was survived by Louise Wright, his second wife. Turner had no
Writings and Scholarly Articles
Turner wrote for numerous educational,
scientific, and religious periodicals. his learned article
"Mineral Nutrition of Plants" in the American
Journal of Botany is forty pages in length. As president of
the Federated Colored Catholics, Turner published frequent
messages to its members in The Chronicle and the Interracial
Review. His constant plea was the extension of Catholic
Negro higher education.
Actual conditions of Catholic education
among the colored laymen. Catholic Education Association
Bulletin 16:431-440, November 1919.
A plea for more intensive programs of
extension of educational facilities for the benefit of colored
people of Catholic faith especially in the field of higher
Address made at the Detroit convention.
Chronicle 3:288-289, December 1930.
Constructive attitude required members of the
FCC [Federation of Colored Catholics] for high school and
Agricultural education in Negro land grant
colleges. Southern Workman 66:188-191, June 1937.
There is a trend toward liberal arts and away
from agricultural courses. Study and revision of the curriculum
Correspondence. Colored Missions
29;90, June 1943
Father Maggiore's efforts to expand the
church into the social life of the Negro people in his mission
is an example of the trail-blazing activity characteristic of
many priests in out-of-the-way places.
Elementary science teaching in Negro
schools: a problem. National Education Outlook
1:29-30, September 1937.
The teacher must create the desire to handle
things intelligently, leading him on to the opportunity to
experiment and later to wide occupational participation in the
Letters from the president of the
Federation [of Colored Catholics]. T.W. Turner. Chronicle
4:455, 511, 541, 603, June, August-October 1931.
Offering recommendations for the success of
the forth-coming convention and for the future success of the
organization through the approval and cooperation of church
Mineral nutrition of plants. American Journal
of Botany 9:415-455, October 1922.
Studies of the mechanism of the physiological
effects of certain mineral salts in altering the ratio of top
growth to root growth in seed plants.
Our Detroit regulations. Chronicle
5:110-111. June 1932
A consideration of the fundamental idea
underlying the FCC.
President's annual address, New York,
Sept. 2, 1932. Interracial Review 5:204-205, October
Program of FCC must give more attention to
essential matters of economics and social conditions.
Problems of the Negro. Commonweal
14:325-326, July 20, 1935.
In a letter to the editor, Dr. Turner shows
the importance of Catholic higher education.
"Science Teaching in Negro
Colleges." Journal of Negro Education, 1946.
The social order and the Catholic Negro.
Chronicle 4:650-654, November 1931.
The Negro in relation to birth control,
native clergy, catholic education, as stated in the Encyclicals.
Some ideals of the biological laboratory.
Education 38: 143-156, November 1917.
The ideals mentioned and developed in this
long essay are health and physical development, conservation of
food supply, social betterment and social uplift, and practical
creative ethics. the teacher of biology should be a person of
high moral and religious ideals, and breath of character.
Spirit of the Federated Colored Catholics.
Chronicle 5: 92 may 1932
Chief aim to contribute our part in the
promotion of Catholic Action as a concrete fact in our daily
A visit to Catholic New Orleans. Chronicle
5; 52-53, March 1932
Brief account of the outstanding catholics
and catholic enterprises in the city.
Nickels, Marilyn Wenzke. Black Catholic
Protest and the Federated Colored Catholics, 1917-33. Garland
"Hubert Branch Crouch and the Origins of
the National Institute of Science," Journal of Negro
History, (Winter 1994): 18-33.
The New York Times. (April 25, 1978)
"NOBC Pioneer Dies in 102nd Year," Impact!
(April-May 1978): 2-3.
* * * *
Sources: Sister Mary Anthony Scally, R.S.M.
Catholic Writers (1900-1943): A Bio-Bibliography (1945).
Notable Black American Scientists. Gale Research,
1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington
Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group, 2001.
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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
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Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
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Only a Pawn in Their Game
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update 18 February 2012