Rep. Johnnie Turner (District 85) is very much familiar with the Memphis Branch office of the NAACP on Vance Ave. For a dozen-plus years, she was the group’s executive director, working out of the office in service to the community.
On Friday morning, Turner made a major announcement from that location. She will not run for re-election when her current term ends later this year. Turner has been a member of the Tennessee General Assembly since January 2010 when she succeeded her late husband, Rep. Larry Turner.
“I still enjoy doing this,” Turner said. “But it’s time. I can walk out now and feel good about what I’ve accomplished, particularly the legislative packet that we filed this year that grew out of the Unsolved Civil Rights Cold Case special Joint Committee.”
Turner, a Democrat, sponsored legislation in 2017 that created the committee, which later morphed into the Ad Hoc Task Force on Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes, both of which she chaired. The committee held several hearings last year with family members seeking closure for loved ones who were victims of unsolved cold cases of the civil rights era. From its findings, the committee proposed several legislative initiatives.
Turner has had a long history of civil rights involvement from her participation in the sit-in movement and having marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the sixties. She attended the 1963 March on Washington and heard Dr. King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.
She also was present at Mason Temple in 1968 when Dr. King gave his prophetic last sermon: “I Have Been to the Mountaintop.”
“It’s hard to imagine the impact that Rep. Turner has had during her career in the Legislature and in the entirety of her life’s work,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Stewart said. “From marching with Dr. King to creating a legislative committee to address unsolved crimes of the civil rights era, her legacy is a list of accomplishments that will last for decades.”
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said Turner can truly be called the conscience of the House of Representatives.
“She has provided an example to us all, not only in her role as a legislator, but with her entire life. Rep. Turner has never forgotten her experiences as a child and the opportunities she and her family were denied simply because of the color of their skin,” Fitzhugh said. “In her career as an educator, she made sure every child strived to do their best and not let anyone limit their dreams. She was on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement, committing herself to making Memphis, our state, and our nation more equable.
“And she came to work every day with a single goal: to make life better for her constituents. This General Assembly will miss her counsel and experience. She has not only been my colleague and my friend, but a role model as well.”
There are those who will always be the icons of the movement for civil and human rights and Turner will forever be in those ranks, said Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators Chair Rep. Raumesh Akbari (District 91).
“Student activist, NAACP leader, civil rights champion and state representative are the banners she held for many years. Rep. Turner has never been afraid to stand up for the oppressed, the downtrodden or the forgotten. We honor her today for her dedication, her work ethic and most of all — her unyielding commitment to the spirit of human dignity.”