Hartman Turnbow

Hartman Turnbow (March 20, 1905–August 15, 1988), was Mileston, Miss., farmer and fiery orator known for inspiring people during the Civil Rights Movement.

Time Periods: 20th Century, 1961
Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Organizing, Racism & Racial Identity

Hartman Turnbow. By Sue [Lorenzi] Sojourner.

Hartman Turnbow was a fiercely independent farmer and homeowner from Holmes County, Mississippi. He was known for his independent spirit and speaking the truth, and was one of the first black residents in Holmes County to register to vote. When 14 people arrived at the courthouse to register, the deputy sheriff asked, “Alright whose first?”

Turnbow stepped right up and said “Me, Hartman Turnbow. I came here to die to vote. I’m the first.” Since that moment he became a leader in his community.

Voting rights activist Sue Lorenzi described his oration: “His huge energy dominated. He spoke in unusual turns of phrase that we would soon call Turnbowisms. . . His words flowed rapidly with lilting energy. They tumbled from his mouth, often indecipherable to my inexperienced ears.”

During Freedom Summer, he offered these words to his fellow black Mississippians to persuade them to register to vote:

That lynching I was tellin you about — that one with the burning with the ‘cetylene torchthat ‘n was a turning point. It just . . . made a Negro mad, got to thinking he’d rather die anyway but to be all burnt up with a torch while he’s still living. But this now, this is something that we is in together. We was all together trying to do something. . . The Negro ain’t gonna stand fo all that beating and lynching and bombing and stuff. They found out when they tried to stop us from redishing [a Turnbowism for registering] that every time they bombed or shot or beat or cut credit . . . it . . . just made him angry and more determined to keep on . . . and get redished.

Turnbow was elected as a delegate for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Learn more from Hartman Turnbow’s profile on the SNCC Digital Gateway.

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