National Institute on Aging

In Memoriam: James E. Turner, 1940-2022

James Turner, a professor emeritus of African and African American Politics and Social Policy in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University and a pioneering scholar in Black studies, died on August 6 in Ithaca, New York. He was 82 years old.

One of eight children in his family, Dr. Turner was born in Brooklyn and raised in New York City. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Central Michigan University, where he majored in sociology and political economy. He went on to earn a master’s degree in African studies from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. from Union Graduate School in Cincinnati. At Northwestern University in the mid-1960s, he led a two-day sit-in at the university’s bursar’s office protesting discrimination and living conditions for Black students.

In 1969, Dr. Turner accepted an offer to lead the Black studies center at Cornell University. The Africana Studies and Research Center opened its doors in September 1969 with 160 students, 10 courses, and seven faculty members. Seven months later, the building was destroyed in a suspected arson attack. Professor Turner served as the Africana Center’s director from 1969 to 1986 and returned for a five-year term from 1996 to 2001.

“Professor Turner was an institution and bridge builder par excellence,” said Olufemi Taiwo, professor and chair of Africana studies at Cornell. “But he was also an influential scholar and his leading role in not merely initiating but establishing the theoretical parameters of Africana studies anticipated many of the issues that continue to exercise scholars across the world even now. That his death is being mourned across the world is a testament to his generosity and an ecumenical spirit that is rare these days. We have lost a giant in all the resonances of that simple word.”


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