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Johnnie Turner speaks to students. Joann Morales | THE ALL STATE

Honorary Civil Rights leader gives lecture

William Hayes | The All State

APSU campus invited an example of living history speak to students, faculty, and guests in the Morgan University Center this past Thursday, in the event of honoring one of the University’s most memorable and inspiring professors, Dr. Betty Joe Wallace.

Tennessee State Representative of District 85 Johnnie Turner gave an important and insightful lecture on the times of her early life of having to deal with the struggle many African-Americans had faced throughout the mid to latter 20th Century.

Representative Turner has been through it all. In the early 1960s, she was a part of the famous lunch counter sit-ins in Memphis, Tennessee and was a participant in the March on Washington in 1963. In this time frame, she was a follower of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and even after his death in 1968, still carried many of his teachings with her.

Through her passionate storytelling of all these events, Turner portrayed her character of all of these experiences as a veteran of the many battles of the Civil Rights Movement and a victim of so many conflicts that many African-Americans had to endure during this unfortunate time period.

Turner faced jail time for unjustly prejudiced reasons, as well as academic prejudices that many Blacks faced, being given an inferior education compared to America’s Caucasian populace.

She endured physical, mental and emotional abuse on so many levels, but through all of this cruelty she not only endured but learned.

“My life,” Turner said, “is centered around the circumstances of these events and the color of my skin.”

These events that inspired Turner’s political career, motivating her to make America a better place where the sole characteristics of a person’s being would not be judged by their flesh alone.

Turner served in the 106th through 110th General Assemblies and as Treasurer of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators. Following this, Representative Turner has served under many committees and institutions devoted to equal rights for all people and has been received with great publicity for these actions.

Turner is a member of the Board of Directors of the NAACP Tennessee State Conference. Memphis being her beloved home, she was President of the Memphis Alliance of Black School Educators, as well as being a prominent figure on the Memphis/Shelby County Anti-Predatory Lending Coalition.

She was also a Vice Chairman of the Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board of Shelby County.

All of this and what follows is Legislator of the Year Award for the Arc Mid-South in 2014 and the Tennessee Truth Teller Award from Sigma Theta Sorority. She gained appreciation for Relentless and Dedicated Service in the Fight for Justice in Civil Rights and Human Dignity from the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP.

She also was a special guest appearance on the PBS documentary Memories of the March, Turner being one of only two from Memphis who participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

Turner’s lecture is part of a memorial series honoring the late APSU professor Betty Joe Wallace.

Wallace was an APSU professor who served the campus from 1965 to 2004, providing nearly 40 years of scholastic benefit to the many Govs, both faculty and students.

Her main discipline was teaching history but her crowning credentials were founding the African American Studies and the Women’s Studies Programs.

This occurred during a considerable time, as it was not too long after the Civil Rights Movement, the courses she taught in the 1970s to the APSU campus, and she taught them alone, creating a special culture within the campus community.

Wallace’s main passion and concern was education and its effective outreach to the people she dedicated her teaching to. Wallace, much like Turner, contained a profound fervidness towards teaching and its impact to the people who received it.

She trained many aspiring teachers in the nearby public schools of Clarksville in history and social studies.

She was chairman of the APSU Affirmative Action Committee and during her tenure as a Faculty Senate member, specifically in the year 1991, she created a memorandum that recommended female candidates for deanship position and higher-level positions, which was successfully passed through.

Wallace was also a successful author, publishing two books during her career—Fort Donelson’s National Battlefield: A Botanical and Historical Perspective in 1997 and Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky and Tennessee: Four Decades of Tennessee Valley Authority Management in 2002.

She passed away on April 14, 2014.

“If students take on the position of leadership as Professor Wallace did,” Jill Eichhorn, coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program and establisher of the memorial event (along with Dr. Michele Butts of the Department of History and Philosophy), said“our communities will be stronger.”

Indeed, Turner’s speech fully dedicated and represented Dr. Wallace’s fundamental character. Her life story from a little child on a plantation, to growing up as a young girl in racist Memphis, to her political ambitions to eradicate systematic prejudice across the country definitely compliments Dr. Wallace’s career.

It was a special and rare treat to have Turner come and speak to the APSU community about her lifetime and honoring the values of Wallace. This is, however, the first Wallace memorial service to be held and is now officially established as an APSU tradition.

There will be in a year’s time another Wallace dedication to be presented to the APSU public.

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