Former state rep. Turner “honored and blessed” to receive award at U of M ceremony

Former Tennessee State Representative Johnnie Turner

For years, Johnnie R. Turner worked as hard as she could to help contribute to making sure for all people gained civil rights. She toiled selflessly for decades, helping to ensure the rights of all people, putting herself in the front lines on a consistent basis.

The Black Student Association formulated the opening ceremony for Black History On Friday night, Turner received the honor of a lifetime, literally.

She was named the 2019 recipient of the Authur S. Holmon Lifetime Achievement Award for the years that she invested into the lives of other people while putting herself in harm’s way. Turner expressed her gratitude for the award, noting a few of the past recipients.

“I am up here getting recognized with the Memphis Eight (first eight students of color to enroll at the University of Memphis) and people such as Mark Stansbury,” Turner said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to receive an honor of this great magnitude.”

Turner earned her Bachelor of Sciences degree from LeMoyne-Owen College, and also earned her Master Education degree from the University of Memphis. However, Turner was denied a teaching job by Memphis schools simply due to the color of her skin, not her qualifications.

“I just wanted to receive the opportunity to teach and show that I can make a difference in the lives of young people”, Turner recalled. “I ended up taking the decision to court, and a week later, I ended up getting a call that I had a job.”

Turner started her activism while at LeMoyne-Owen College, and it never left her. After college, she continued to work with groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Turner participated in sit-ins during the 1960s despite facing degradation from racist opposition and even marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the legendary March on Washington in 1963.

“One day I decided I wasn’t going to move from the middle of the bus,” Turner said, referring to the laws of segregation, which prevented blacks from sitting near the front of buses. “My friend told me that the bus driver was white and that I could go to jail. I reluctantly gave up my seat on the bus and two white girls that sat in my seat giggled and laughed all the way home.”

Turner decided then that she would never just take discrimination laying down, and she applied that determination to all facets of life, even in her role as the state representative of the 85th district in Tennessee. Turner served in that role from 2010-2018.

“There is still more work to be done,” Turner stated in conclusion. “Find your place and do it.”