March 20, 1905|
Mileston, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||August 15, 1988
Lexington, Mississippi, U.S.
Civil rights activist
Hartman Turnbow (March 20, 1905 – August 15, 1988) was an American farmer and activist during the Civil Rights Movement. Turnbow was also the first African American to register to vote in the state in the 1960s, along with a group called the "First 14".
Turnbow was born on March 20, 1905 in Mileston, Mississippi. Turnbow was the grandson of a slave. He moved to Chicago, Illinois where he met and married his second wife Dee. They returned to Mississippi with their children, settling in Tchula, where he became an independent farmer and owned his land.
In April 1963, Turnbow, with a group of 13 other African Americans, including Hollis Watkins, Ozell Mitchell, and Alma Mitchell Carnegie, went down to the Holmes County courthouse to register to vote. They became known as the "First 14."
There they were approached by the deputy sheriff who, with his weapon drawn, said to the group "Alright. Who's first?" At that point, Turnbow stepped forward and told the deputy sheriff "Me, Hartman Turnbow. I came here to die to vote. I'm the first." Hartman became the first African American to successfully register to vote in Mississippi and the first African American to try to register to vote in the state in nearly a century.
Soon after, Turnbow was elected delegate of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
On the evening of May 7, 1963, Turnbow and his wife were taking their daughter to choir practice at around 7:00 pm. They returned home around 9:30 pm that evening, where his wife noticed a problem with one of the ventilation systems in their home. Then, around 3:00 on the morning of the 8th, Turnbow was awakened by his wife Dee who shouted to him that "...the house was on fire". Turnbow grabbed his rifle, went outside and began shooting at whites outside his home. The house had been sent ablaze by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
As an investigation unfolded, several "witnesses", all African Americans, told investigators that "no white man threw any fire bombs into [Turnbow's] living quarters but that [Turnbow] instigated this and had ... other Negroes throw fire bombs into his home and he did the shooting into his own living quarters." After the investigation concluded, it was concluded that Turnbow either set his house on fire or was involved with his house being set on fire. He was arrested by, at that time, Holmes County Sheriff Andrew P. Smith and charged with arson. He spent two days in jail before being released on bond.
Turnbow was married two times and had six children, sons Jewross and Hartman, and daughters Mae Alice, Mae Bell, Mary and Christine.
Turnbow died on Friday August 15, 1988 at the Methodist Hospital of Middle Mississippi in Lexington at the age of 83. His funeral held on Wednesday, August 24 at 11:00 a.m. at Rock of Ages Church of God in Christ in Tchula. Elder Fred Wade officiated with interment in the Pinkston Cemetery north of Lexington.
Turnbow's courageous effort to register to vote succeeded and gave Black people in the South a voice regarding which politicians would represent them.
The unusual way that Turnbow spoke is now known as "Turnbowisms". Voting rights activist Sue (Lorenzi) Sojourner once said this about Turnbow's oration:
|“||His words flowed rapidly with lilting energy. They tumbled from his mouth, often indecipherable to my inexperienced ears.||”|
An example of the way Turnbow spoke can found in this excerpt as during Freedom Summer he tried to persuade more black Mississippians to vote:
|“||That lynching I was tellin you about—that one with the burning with the ‘cetylene torch—that ‘n was a turning point. It just … made a Negro mad, got to thinking he’d rather die anyway but to be all burnt up with a torch while he’s still living. But this now, this is something that we is in together. We was all together trying to do something … The Negro ain’t gonna stand fo all that beating and lynching and bombing and stuff. They found out when they tried to stop us from redishing [a Turnbowism for registering] that every time they bombed or shot or beat or cut credit, … it … just made him angry and more determined to keep on … and get redished.||”|