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Preaching as Survival: The Rhetoric Bishop Henry McNeal Turner-Pt. 2

06/23/2015 08:48 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Turner's emigration thoughts grew stronger when the Supreme Court declared the 1875 Civil Rights bill unconstitutional. For Turner, the decision nullified many of the rights that African Americans gained during Reconstruction. In an open letter to B K Sampson of Memphis, Tennessee, Turner criticized leaders who called upon African Americans to take a more "conservative" or "moderate" policy after the decision. After offering four reasons why the decision of the Court was wrong, Turner wrote

I think, however, I have written enough to convince you that the decision merits no moderate talk; that it should be branded, battle-axed, sawed, cut and carved with the most bitter epithets and AME Zion blistering denunciations that words can express. We want fire-eaters now, a thousand times more than we do conservatives. This nation deserves and will receive, if it lets that decision stand, the hiss of man, the curse of God and the ridicule of all ages. And I think it is wrong in you, sir, to teach the young men of our race that is manly to sit still under any such diabolical decision (41).

Turner closed his letter by writing

Now I ask, shall we sit still and be conservative, hold our peace and submit to the degradation? I hope, sir, you will not say yes. You cannot afford to do it. No, not as a member of the Negro race. If the decision is correct, the United States constitution is a dirty rag, a cheat, a libel, and ought to be spit upon by every Negro in the land. More, if the decision is correct and is accepted by the country, then prepare to return to Africa, or get ready for examination (42).

Another issue for Turner was that of unification with other black Methodist bodies. Speaking in apocalyptic language to the AME, AME Zion and CME Churches, Turner charged that it was argued "time to awaken from your slumbers.

No time for divisions, schisms, strife, contentions and foolishness now.  Do you see that Dred Scott decision peeping out of its supposed tomb, fixing up for a resurrection?  Do you see the heart of Pharaoh hardening again?  Do you see the gathering clouds thickening over our heads?  Do you see the black squadrons, calamity, harnessing themselves for another charge of pestilence and death?  Do you hear the vengeance of an insulted God bickering in the heavens?  Do you not feel the quaking of the earth beneath your feet?  I repeat, it is time to awake.  Read the history of the world, and you will find one revolution always calls for another.  That decision is the first blast of the next.  Laugh, smile, grin, say he is crazy, a monomaniac, or whatever you choose, but it is coming! coming!! coming!!!  We need unity and we need it badly (46).

Turner continued to call for unity between the two denominations throughout his career. In another editorial, frustrated that "Methodism is now split up into about thirty separate sects, all resting upon the shoulders of John Wesley," Turner wondered, "where will this thing end?" Further, he commented

I pray heaven, however, that the committees of the A. M. E. Church and A. M. E. Z. Church, which are to meet in July, may so adjust matters as to consummate a union between those two great bodies, and thus make one less  I am praying two kinds of prayers for the delegates: 1st, that those in favor of the measure may live, be strong, healthy, eloquent and masterly in discussion; 2nd, that those opposed to it may get sick or die, just as God pleases, and never meet the convention; for I believe the man who opposes it will oppose heaven, the salvation of souls and the best interests of the colored race (66).

Turner also had strong criticisms of the church and its ministers. Once when lamenting about the ministers who wanted security in their appointments above anything else, Turner wrote

It is maintained in our Church that nothing can be done for God without a gold mine. It has got so that if you give a man an appointment he will halt to ask you what is there, and if you tell him God and people are there and a great field for work and labor, he will ask you what he has done to be thus punished. He will in addition tell you he has been in the ministry five or six years, and every place he has been the minister before him had ruined the work, and he could do nothing, etc. He thinks it time he was sent to a place where he could have rest for one year. There is a sentiment extant that somebody else must raise a bushel of money before we can ask a soul to come to God and be saved from sin and death. Trust in God is a thing of the past; the old folks did that way, but we can't. They were fogies anyhow, and had no better sense than to believe God would send them help from on high; but we know better. This is no age of ignorance and superstition. Now I repeat, this sentiment is nearly all through our Church, and it is paralyzing our work at home and abroad. Men seem to have no idea they are to venture on God, pitch in, preach day and night, sing, pray, fast, and work till Christ sends the increase. The ministry is about reduced to a vicarage is in the minds of many (72).

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