Engraving of Henry McNeal Turner in Harper’s Weekly announcing Turner as the first black army chaplain.
The Civil War was over. Across the nation, freed slaves rejoiced. God's prophecy had been fulfilled. They had found Freedom. Freedom! The Promised Land! They believed that they would now be able to enjoy their newfound citizenship. But a new struggle was replacing the old one.
Henry McNeal Turner would emerge as one of the leaders in this struggle. Self-taught and ambitious, Turner had already achieved renown as a Methodist minister and had preached widely throughout the South.
But African-Americans could not be more than itinerant preachers within the southern Methodist tradition. Thus, when Turner heard of a church where black men could become bishops, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Daniel Payne, a senior bishop in that church, took Turner under his wing and became his mentor.
"Free" Card showing an enslaved person reaching freedom.
When the Civil War began, Turner served as pastor at Israel AME Church in southeast Washington, D.C. He took advantage of his proximity to the wheels of power to become one of those lobbying for the enlistment of black troops. In the process, he became good friends with Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Sumner subsequently visited Turner's church. By some accounts, Stanton became pivotal in swaying President Abraham Lincoln's mind towards enlisting black soldiers.
Despite Lincoln's ambivalence on the race question, African-Americans perceived him as the Moses sent to lead the enslaved from freedom or the Jesus of Liberty. When he was assassinated on Good Friday, 1865, the latter appellation stuck.
Reginald Hildebrand, author of "The Times Were Strange and Stirring," on the theology of black soldiers