He was a farm laborer from an early age but, by his mid-20s, had made the move 75 miles west to Atlanta. He started a family, with a wife and two sons. He worked hard, 60 hours a week as a mechanic and porter plus nights driving a taxi.
He was 50 years old on Aug. 20, 1945, the night he was pulled from his cab near Druid Hills, knifed and left to die.
For decades, the circumstances surrounding Turner’s death were hidden, even from his own descendants.
That’s no longer the case.
A historical marker honoring Turner was installed Thursday near the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Oakdale Road. The story of his death - and his life - is now told in bronze and blue, on a plaque that visitors to the surrounding parks or the nearby Paideia School will see in perpetuity.
“Each step closer to telling the truth gets us closer to some kind of reconciliation, understanding that we’re all Americans,” Turner’s grandnephew, Leland Scott Jr., said during the brief ceremony. “Once we get there, nothing will be able to stop us.”
The marker honoring Turner was the third erected by the DeKalb County NAACP’s Remembrance Project, which has worked with the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative to honor lynching victims throughout the county.
Similar markers have been installed in Lithonia (where three Black men were hanged by white mobs in the late 1800s) and in downtown Decatur. The Decatur marker recognizes all known lynchings that occurred in DeKalb County between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950.
“We put up all these monuments to the creators of racial terrorism,” Dee Smith, chair of the NAACP’s Remembrance Project, said Thursday. “But this is the first opportunity we’ve had to honor the victims of racial terrorism.”
The event was attended by representatives from the NAACP, public officials and a number of Turner’s descendants.
Amy Ray, an Atlanta native and one half of the folk duo Indigo Girls, was also there. She wrote the lyrics to a song that will be debuted during a more formal dedication ceremony that’s currently scheduled for June 6.
More details will be posted at naacpdekalb.org as they’re finalized.
“It’s not about his death,” Ray said of her song, which was a collaboration with composer Thomas Jefferson Anderson. “His family came out of this. He has an amazing amount of descendants that have done amazing things. The family tree is more powerful than the lynching.”
Delores Turner is Porter Turner’s niece. She didn’t know the truth about her uncle’s death until the NAACP reached out to her nearly two years ago to ask about a marker.
She was emotional as it was put in place Thursday.
“It means so much that they thought enough to care,” she said. “To do this.”
FULL TEXT OF PORTER TURNER MARKER:
“On the night of August 20, 1945, Porter Flournoy Turner, a 50-year-old Black Atlanta taxi driver, was lynched near this site.
Born in Greensboro, Georgia, Mr. Turner was a wage-earning farm laborer for his family by age 14 before moving to Atlanta’s Fourth Ward in 1920.
Mr. Turner worked 60 hours a week as a mechanic and porter at an auto dealership and full-service garage. He supplemented his income to support his wife and two sons by driving a white-owned taxi at night.
On the morning of August 21, Mr. Turner’s body was found brutally stabbed to death in the chest and back on the front lawn of a white physician’s home on Springdale Road. The cab he had been driving was abandoned on the curb across the street. DeKalb Police conducted only a cursory investigation.
In June 1946, it became clear that Mr. Turner had been the victim of lynching violence after undercover informants working with Georgia’s Assistant Attorney General announced that members of the Klavalier Klub - a strong arm of the Ku Klux Klan tasked with terroristic raids - had boasted during a covert meeting of killing him.
During this era, the Atlanta Klan, police departments and white taxi owners conspired to protect white economic control. Financial independence made Black people vulnerable to violent retaliation.
Despite the new evidence of who committed the murder, no one was ever arrested or held accountable for Mr. Turner’s lynching.”
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