Another Black First: Charles Henry Turner

turnerVirginia Morell has written a delightful book called ANIMAL WISE:  The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.  I’m charmed with the first chapter.  But it’s a footnote that caught my attention.  “Charles Abramson, a comparative psychologist and historian of his field at the University of Oklahoma, believes that a black scientist, Charles Henry Turner, devised many of the first experiments showing that a wide range of insects—ants, bees, cockroaches, and spiders—can learn.  Abramson regards Turner’s research as ‘the foundation of all subsequent insect-learning studies.’  Many of Turner’s papers are cited by scientists today, although they were published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Turner earned a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago but was never hired at any university, despite applying for numerous professorships.  He taught high school science courses and carried out his groundbreaking studies—three of which were published in Science—in his spare time.”

In my other reading I learned Turner couldn’t obtain a teaching position at the University of Chicago, regardless of the fact he’d published over 30 papers.  He was turned down by Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee because Washington could not afford to pay the salaries of both George Washington Carver and Turner.  Eventually Turner was appointed Professor of Biology and Department Head at Clark College (now called Clark University in Atlanta, Georgia) from 1892 to 1895.  Clark University is an HBCU campus, historically black college

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