The son of a Perry Country Alabama farmer who owned 111 acres near Marion (now the Emerson Turner Memorial Park), Al Turner was a bricklayer and graduate of Alabama A&M. On Selma's Bloody Sunday in 1965 he was one of the leaders of the Voting Rights March that was attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In honor of his courage and dedication to the Movement, he was chosen by SCLC to lead the mule train that carried Dr. King to his funeral, and for many years he was state director for SCLC in Alabama.
As remembered by Bruce Hartford
In the summer of '65 we were doing voter registration and desegregation work in Crenshaw county just south of Montgomery. One Sunday we were conducting a non-violent training session in a small one-stoplight town named Brantley. A mob of fifty or more klansmen (I assume) roared up in trucks and cars, jumped out and attacked us. We managed to reach our ride, a VW "beetle," and they chased us all the way back to Luverne the county seat.
Al was our project director and we called him straight away in Marion. "We'll have to go back," he told us. Not "you have to go back," but "we have to go back." The next morning he was down in Crenshaw and accompanied us back to Brantley where we met with the local leader, a Korean War veteran, and the few others who were not afraid to be seen with civil rights workers. We had not been there more than 20 minutes when a car skidded up to the cabin in a cloud of red dust. A Black woman jumped out, she was the Mayor's maid she told us. He had sent her to warn us out of town. He was calling out the mob, and we'd better stay out if we knew what was good for us.
"You tell the Mayor that if he wants us, he can find us here," Al told her softly. He went out on the porch and sat down in an old rocking chair facing the street. Slowly he rocked back and forth, back and forth. Cars and trucks filled with hard-eyed white men, the same ones that had chased us the day before, drove at low speed past the house. They stared hard at Al and the rest of us while he rocked back and forth, back and forth. They drove by again, and again, and again, and Al just slowly rocked back and forth in that old rocking chair.
After awhile, it seemed like years but was probably no more than half an hour, they stopped driving by and they didn't come back. Next voter registration day, we carried 20 to 30 Brantley folk up to Luverne to try to register. And no one ever forgot the day that Al Turner took his ease in that old rocking chair on a Brantly porch.
Copyright © 2000
Last Modified: April 28, 203.