October 24, 1908


Former Minister to Liberia Taught
First Negro School in Mis-
souri -- Addresses Negro
Hadley Meeting.

From slavery into the diplomatic service cost J. Milton Turner a life of effort, but he had time on the side to educate the negroes of Missouri and help 'em out in Kansas. Turner, who was the principal speaker at the negro Hadley meeting last night in the Rev. Dr. Hurst's church at Independence avenue and Charlotte street, came here yesterday for the first time in a great many years.

There wasn't any reception committee at the depot to greet him, so he strolled up to Ninth and Main streets to have a look at the site of the first negro school in Missouri. Turner taught that school. It was supported by Jesse James, and most of the legal advice and diplomatic stunts necessary to keep a Confederate school board from running Turner out of the community came from Colonel R. T. Van Horn.

Turner said last night that he came here in '67 to get the Republican separate school law into effect. There wasn't a negro school in the state when he landed, although the law provided that there should be in every district where there were over twenty pupils. The school board of '60 and '61 had gone off to join the Confederate army, and had returned and arbitrarily taken up their old duties and were then finishing up their terms in office. They got back to duty just in time to confront the separate school law, which Republicans had placed on the books and which the Democrats have been claiming credit for ever since.


Turner wanted to start a school, but the Confederate school board here wouldn't recognize either him or the law. Turner said yesterday that Colonel R. T. Van Horn secured a carpenter shop for him at Ninth and Main streets and told him to get busy. Turner had a wife, but no furniture, and a generous storekeeper gave him cloth to make a partition and goods boxes to make tables. The board refused to pay his salary and he lived in the carpenter shop and taught school in a corner of it the entire winter without pay.

"Jesse James used to ride in and shoot up the town," said Turner. "He was in sympathy with the school. When he was ready to leave the town he used to ride up and demand to see the n----- school teacher. I would go out trembling and admit that I was the teacher.

"Are they paying you?" Jesse James would ask. When I told him no he would hand me a $10 bill and ride away. He was about the only cash patron I had."

In the spring, after his first term, the carpenter returned and offered to sell Turner his place, 200 feet on Main street and seventy-five feet on Ninth street, for $300, and offered to trust the negro for the money. Turner thought the carpenter was crazy and declined, taking a summer job as a bootblack in a hotel on the Kansas side of the border.


Getting into Kansas got Turner into more trouble. Susan B. Anthony and Mary Cady Stanton and Jim Lane and a bunch began to espouse woman's suffrage about that time, and the issue became woman's suffrage against negro suffrage. But Turner extricated himself and got back to Kansas City, where, he said yesterday, a Dutchman who had been elected to the school board settled up with him for all the back salary and rehired him for teacher.

Then Turner went down the river on a steamboat, and Joseph L. Stephens got him to stop off at Boonville and teach the second negro school in the state. Stephens paid the bill. Stephens afterwards got to be father of a governor of Missouri. Thomas Parker, then state superintendent of instruction, heard of the negro educator and sent for him. He appointed Turner second assistant, but said he did not have an y money to meet his salary. Turner worked for nothing until he was also named second assistant by the Freedman's bureau at Washington and assigned to Missouri and Kansas territory. This paid $125 a month. The Missouri Pacific railway gave the transportation and Turner began to travel about establishing negro schools. He put in 140, and then discovered there wasn't a negro in his territory who could read or write, and he was up against it for teachers.

News didn't travel fast in those days, and it was a long time before Turner learned that a negro regiment on the battlefield had voted to appropriate $5,000 to build the Lincoln institute at Jefferson City. Turner got busy and called a convention at the state capital, had 790 negroes there, and invited the general assembly to look on. That night members of the general assembly went down and donated $1,000 toward negro education.


The outgrowth of Turner's Jefferson City convention was a bill in the general assembly to appropriate $15,000 to the negro educational movement, just as soon as the negroes themselves could certify to having a like capital in cash and real estate. The negroes sent Turner down East to beg money, and he got $1,000 in cash from a fellow named William Thaw down in Pittsburg, whose son afterward got into print for killing Stanford White on a New York roof garden. Begging did not suit Turner, and he returned to Missouri.

"This brings us to the convention of '70, when we Republicans got the balance of power in Missouri," said Turner with a chuckle, as he rubbed the rheumatism out of his aged joints. "That's where I met Carl Schurz of St. Louis. Mr. Schurz was in the senate. That's when the fifteenth amendment was put in operation.

"I was in that convention, backed up by 200 negro delegates, and I was in joint debate with Carl Schurz for three days. He wanted to enfranchise the Confederate veterans, and so did we negroes, but we kicked when Schurz wanted the bill to read for the benefit of white men only. With my 200 negroes I held the balance of power, and Mr. Schurs bolted the convention and the party."

This convention and the memorable three days' debate with Carl Schurz got Turner into the limelight. Colonel R. T. Van Horn of Kansas City recommended him to President Grant, and the negro was sent as minister to Liberia. He stuck it out there for eight years, and then returned to St. Louis, where he was born into slavery, and became a lawyer. For twenty years he has been an attorney for the negroes of Indian Territory, and secured for them their treaty rights there.