Slave, educator & ambassador. Born in slavery in St. Louis, Missouri, Turner's father was able to purchase his family's freedom in 1843. James became a butler for Madison Miller, going with him into the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, Miller's brother-in-law Missouri Governor Thomas Fletcher appointed Turner Assistant Superintendent of Schools in charge of establishing schools for freed Blacks throughout Missouri. Turner raised money to establish Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri, which was the first high school & teaher training institute for Blacks in Missouri. He was one of the founders & leaders of the Missouri Equal Rights League, the first African American political organization in Missouri. In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner Ambassador to Liberia (1871-1878), making Turner the first African American diplomat to represent the United States in a foreign country. After returning to St. Louis he worked on the Refugee Relief Board helping thousands of destitute southern Blacks who were migrating to Kansas. In 1881 Turner organized the Freedman's Oklahoma Association & for the next 20 years he battled for the rights of Blacks in Indian Territory.
Bio by: Connie Nisinger