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Steady and Measured

Benner C. Turner, A Black College President in the Jim Crow South

Travis D. Boyce

Published: Oct 19 2023


Published: Oct 19 2023


Published: Oct 19 2023

OA Ebook
Published: Oct 19 2023


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

Reassesses the career of Benner C. Turner, the polarizing African American president at South Carolina State during the civil rights era

Travis D. Boyce considers the full sweep of Benner C. Turner's life and career in the context of the contrary pressures of white and Black authority. Borrowing an expression from Michelle Obama's remarks to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Boyce casts Turner, long-serving president of South Carolina State University, as a steady and measured leader who preserved the limited resources his historically Black institution possessed in the face of often hostile social, political, and economic power structures.

Previous accounts of Turner and his SC State presidency portray him as unwilling to criticize the state's white power structure and unable to contend with their open resistance to civil rights. Boyce argues that the modern view of Turner flattens a complex terrain, often relying selectively on hostile sources, underplaying the political constraints on presidents of publicly funded HBCUs in the South. Considering Turner in a richer context, with a deep awareness of Turner's early life formative influences, Boyce provides a more complete critical examination of his leadership in trying times.

Travis D. Boyce is associate professor and chair of the department of African American Studies at San Jose State University. He is the coeditor of Historicizing Fear: Ignorance, Vilification, and Othering.

"A vivid account of South Carolina State University's history and presidential actions during the era of the Civil Rights Movement. The book reveals how Turner performed a balancing act, at once protecting the university from a white supremacist state government amidst the sweeping tides of Black progressive change."—F. Erik Brooks, PhD, provost and vice president for academic affairs, Central State University

"Boyce's engaging, insightful biography offers critical insights into a little understood and sometimes maligned historical figure, Benner C. Turner. Using spare but penetrating language, Boyce delves into the inner workings of a pragmatic conservative who repressed civil rights activism but nevertheless contributed to his college's advancement during extraordinarily repressive times."—June Manning Thomas, PhD, professor emerita, University of Michigan, and author of Struggling to Learn: An Intimate History of School Desegregation in South Carolina

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