Black History: Special Delivery!!
Dr. Charles Henry Turner (1867-1923) was a groundbreaking researcher in his study of entomology (the study of insects). Despite the racism and discrimination he faced, Turner persevered and becoming an educator and activist. Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He excelled in school and was the valedictorian of his high school class. In 1887 he married Leontine Troy. They had three children, Henry Owen, Louisa Mae, and Darwin Romanes. Leontine died in 1894. Turner married Lillian Porter 1895. Turner earned a bachelor of science degree in Biology from the University of Cincinnati in 1891 and a Masters of Science in 1892.
From 1893 to 1905, Turner moved frequently. During this time he served as Professor of Biology and Chair of the Science Department at Clark University in Atlanta, Georgia. He then became a high school principal in Cleveland, Tennessee and then accepted a position as Professor of Biology and Chemistry at Haynes Normal and Industrial Institute in Augusta, Georgia. In 1908, he moved to St. Louis and joined the faculty of Sumner High School. He worked at Sumner until his retirement in 1922.
In 1907, Turner earned his Ph.D. graduating magna cum laude in Zoology from the University of Chicago which made him one of the first African Americans to earn a doctorate in the area of the biological sciences and one of the first African Americans to earn a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Turner was a trailblazer in the study of insect behavior. He was the first to determine that insects have the capability to both hear and learn. Turner also discovered that honeybees can see colors and recognize patterns. His first discovery that insects could learn came through a study of cockroaches. During his 33-year career, Turner wrote over 70 research papers. Turner also published 49 papers on field research he conducted on fresh-water invertebrates.
Turner was active in civic engagement serving as a director of the Colored Branch, St. Louis YMCA. He also published local and national publications related to racial equity and education. Turner began to experience health issues in 1922 and he retired from teaching. He returned to Chicago to live with one of his sons. Turned died in 1923 at age 55 due to a heart condition (acute myocarditis).