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New WVU Press book collects Civil War columns of a black pastor

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A series of newspaper columns written by a southern pastor is the subject of Freedom's Witness: The Civil War Correspondence of Henry McNeal Turner, just out from West Virginia University Press.

Henry McNeal Turner was born free, but poor, in 1834 in South Carolina.

He joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church as a young man and quickly became pastor of congregations in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He actively recruited black troops for the Union Army, and in 1863 he was awarded the chaplaincy of the 1st Regiment U.S. Colored Troops.

After the war, he served in the South Carolina state legislature during Reconstruction and was elected Bishop of the A.M.E. Church in 1880.

Freedom's Witness is the series of columns Turner published in the African-American newspaper The Christian Recorder. Young and charismatic, he describes his experience of the Civil War, first from the perspective of a civilian observer in Washington, D.C., and later, as one of the Union Army's first black chaplains.

Throughout his columns, Turner evinces his firm belief in the absolute equality of blacks with whites, and insists on civil rights for all black citizens.

In vivid, detailed prose laced with a combination of trenchant commentary and self-deprecating humor, Turner established himself as more than an observer: He became a distinctive and authoritative voice for the black community and a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal church.

Well known in his day, Turner has been relegated to the fringes of African-American history, in large part because neither his views nor the forms in which he expressed them were recognized by either the black or white elite. With an introduction by Jean Lee Cole and a foreword by Aaron Sheehan-Dean, Freedom's Witness restores this important figure to the historical and literary record.

Jean Lee Cole is an associate professor in the Department of English at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland.

Aaron Sheehan-Dean is the Eberly Family Professor of Civil War History at WVU.

For more information, visit www.wvupress.com or call (800) 621-2736.