Photo courtesy of The Missouri State Historical Society
James Milton Turner
May 16, 1840: James Milton Turner was born into slavery in St. Louis County. Although an 1847 Missouri Law outlawed educating black people, Turner received an education in secret schools during his youth, and he Oberlin College in Ohio. After the Civil War, he worked with the Missouri Department of Education to establish more than thirty schools for African-Americans.
In 1871 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner as the US minister to Liberia, which made him the first black US foreign minister. Established in 1820, Liberia was founded by free blacks and former slaves from the United States. After his time in Liberia, Turner believed that black Americans should not emigrate to Africa in great numbers. Following a tank-car explosion, Turner died in 1915 from blood poisoning in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
This post was contributed by Ross Malone. A historian and a retired school teacher, Ross has authored many books about Missouri’s history, weird facts, and folk tales. He has also written children’s historical fiction. Visit his website, and buy his books in the Missouri Life store.