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Home North Carolina Halifax County City of Weldon Historical Markers Benjamin S. Turner 1825-1894

Benjamin S. Turner 1825-1894

US 158 at Country Club Road, Weldon, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 36° 25' 48.2988", -77° 37' 33.3948"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"U.S. Congressman, 1871-1873, representing Ala.; merchant and farmer in Selma, Ala. Born into slavery one mile south."
     Benjamin Sterling Turner was born into slavery near Weldon in 1825. The exact location is not known. His owner, a widow, moved to Alabama when he was five years old. Young Turner learned to read with the help of her children. At age twenty he was sold to help pay the widow’s debts. His new owner, whose financial business he conducted, allowed him to work semi-independently and, while still a slave, Turner ran a hotel, store, and livery stable in Selma. In time he amassed considerable wealth and later sought from the Southern Claims Commission reimbursement for $8,000 in lost property. In 1870 he reported $2,150 in real estate holdings and $10,000 in personal property.

     After the war Turner became active in Republican politics, serving as Dallas County (Alabama) tax collector in 1867 and on the Selma City Council in 1868. In 1870 he was elected to Congress from the state’s First District. He took his seat a year after fellow North Carolina native Hiram Revels became the first African American to serve in Congress. In the House Turner introduced bills to sell small tracts of land to settlers, to erect public buildings in Selma which were lost during the war, and to refund the cotton tax collected, 1866-1868. Turner lost his bid for reelection in 1872 when black newspaper editor Philip Joseph ran against him and split the black vote.

     Turner’s business failed during the 1870s and he turned to farming. On his death in 1894 an Alabama newspaper noted that “it is sad that his last days were clouded by debts which swept away his all.” The hotel that Turner operated in Selma remains and is being restored. He is buried in that city.

Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (1993)
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of Negro Biography (1982)
Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1971 (1971)
Loren Schweninger, Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915 (1990)
Congressional Globe, May 30 and 31, 1872
Benjamin S. Turner 1825-1894 Historical Marker Location Map, Weldon, North Carolina