J.L. Turner Sr., Early African-American Texas Attorney

He began to practice law in a still lawless place where he could look out his office window and see one of his fellow African-Americans twisting in the wind, another victim of a mob lynching. J.L. Turner Sr. was the kind of resilient man of color who became a model of overcoming and a memorable stand for justice. He was also one of the very first black attorneys in the state of Texas, over 100 years ago.

In his day, Turner was not considered a civil rights activist. He was at times involved in cases that are now considered early tests of changes in America to support basic human rights for all citizens. It was a time to be especially careful not to stir the racist caldron of hate, the days of Jim Crow, the days that J.L. Turner Sr. overcame and proved his worth as a man, regardless of the danger of his position. He became a most-successful attorney.

Still, there were days that as we look back now were clearly early attempts by Turner to reach towards civil rights. Two black kids were being railroaded in Dallas for a false fire alarm that resulted in two firetrucks colliding and killing the Fire Captain and injury to a few firefighters. They were both about eight years old, both children of successful African Americans; one’s father was a prominent pharmacist and the other dad was a highly respected dentist. The pharmacist, Phillip Sunday Sr., would one day become a key civic leader.

Turner became famous in the Dallas African-American community when he was able to obtain justice for the two children in the midst of an all-white justice system, keeping them from being completely railroaded into convictions. He established on the official record that the two children had confessed to the crime only after being cruelly whipped and threatened with pistols! Turner pressed hard for the court to hear all the details. Once it was clear that the alarm box had been accidentally pressed, the children were completely exonerated by the judge.

For most of his career J.L. Turner Sr. worked diligently on non-criminal law cases. It was not until the days of civil rights marches that many of his subtle actions through the years had set legal and social precedence that supported the African-American marches for civil rights. See today’s J. L. Turner’s Legal Association.

Much of the information about J.L. Turner came from this Dallas Observer Article.