James Milton Turner, Missouri's most prominent nineteenth-century African American political figure, possessed a deep faith in America. The Civil War, he believed, had purged the land of its sins and allowed the country to realize what had always been its promise: the creation of a social and political environment in which merit, not race, mattered.
Born a slave, Turner gained freedom when he was a child and received his education in clandestine St. Louis schools, later briefly attending Oberlin College. A self-taught lawyer, Turner earned a statewide reputation and wielded power far out of proportion to Missouri's relatively small black population.
After working nearly a decade in Liberia, Turner never regained the prominence he had enjoyed during Reconstruction.