Frederick Cornelius Turner Jr. (1937–)
Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Cornelius Turner Jr. was a commander of U.S. Army Forces at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium. During his military career, he served in South Vietnam on three separate occasions, during which time he commanded a detachment of Armed Door Gunners, a company in the Twenty-seventh Infantry Regiment, and was a senior advisor to South Vietnamese Regional and Popular Forces in Long An province. In 1969, he returned to his alma mater, Arkansas State University (ASU), to serve as an assistant professor of military science and tactics, making him the university’s first Black faculty member.
Frederick Cornelius Turner Jr. was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) on June 15, 1937, to Frederick Turner Sr. and Ercerene Turner; he has a sister, Freddye Sue Turner. Both of his parents were educators in the segregated Jonesboro (Craighead County) school system. His father was the principal and his mother a home economics teacher at Booker T. Washington (BTW) High School. Turner attended BTW from first through twelfth grades and graduated from BTW as salutatorian in May 1955.
In the fall of 1955, Turner was one of three Black students to enroll at what was then Arkansas State College (now ASU), which marked the beginning of integration at the institution; the other two students were Walter Strong and Larry Williams. He majored in physical education and minored in military science, graduating in May 1960 with a BS in education. After completing Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) summer camp, Turner began active duty in September 1960, attending the Infantry Officers Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. After completing this course, he married Gussie Lee Jones of Kennett, Missouri; they had two daughters, Suzette and Debbye.
Turner served as a military evaluator with the Combat Developments Experimentation Command at Fort Ord, California, from 1961 to 1963. He was then reassigned to Hawaii, where he served with the Second Battalion, the Twenty-seventh Infantry (Wolfhounds), and the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks. It was here that then First Lieutenant Turner followed the normal infantry officer career path, serving as a platoon leader, company executive officer, company commander, and battalion staff officer. His military career was punctuated by service in South Vietnam on three separate occasions, during which time he commanded a detachment of Armed Door Gunners, commanded a company in the Twenty-seventh Infantry Regiment, and finally was a senior advisor to South Vietnamese Regional and Popular Forces in Long An province.
In July 1969, at the request of ASU president Dr. Carl R. Reng, Turner returned to ASU as an assistant professor of military science and tactics—the school’s first Black faculty member. During the three years he served in this role, Turner completed an MS in education, with a concentration in Counseling Education, Secondary. After leaving ASU, Major Turner was reassigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he served as a brigade personnel officer, battalion executive officer, and division staff officer in the First Infantry Division.
In June 1976, he was selected to attend the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon completion of this course, and following his promotion to lieutenant colonel, he was reassigned to Europe, where he served as commander of U.S. Army Forces at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium. Lt. Col. Turner remained in this position for three years, and in 1980, he was again assigned to Fort Leavenworth, but this time as a member of the faculty and staff of the Command and General Staff College. He served in this capacity for two years before retiring from active military service in August 1982.
He and his family relocated to Austin, Texas, where he began his civilian career with the Texas Employment Commission (TEC). One of his positions with TEC was that of employment supervisor, where he managed the Project Re-Integration of Offenders (RIO) program, designed and administered to reintegrate ex-felons back into the world of work and thereby reduce the incidence of recidivism in the state. In the fall of 2002, Turner accepted the position of director of the Department of Human Resources at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. He retired from this role in 2004.
In 2021, first at the request of the Student Government Association and then with the support of Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, the ASU System Board of Trustees unanimously approved the renaming of the Military Science Building at ASU as the Lt. Col. Frederick C. Turner Jr. Military Science Building. A scholarship was also established in his honor.
On November 5, 2021, Turner, along with several family members and friends, including daughters Suzette Turner Caldwell and Debbye Turner Bell, attended the dedication ceremony held in the Military Science Building. During his remarks, he recalled enrolling as one of the first Black students at then Arkansas State College in the mid-1950s: “I stand before you with a heart full of honor and gratitude,” he said, recalling how his mother brought the idea of him enrolling to ASC to then President Carl R. Reng. “Dr. Reng not only agreed. He agreed that the time was right and that we ought to do it now. And the only thing I can say is thank you so much for this honor. I really appreciate it. God bless all of you.”
For additional information:
“Ceremony Marks Naming of Lt. Col. Frederick C. Turner Jr. Military Science Building.” https://www.astate.edu/news/ceremony-marks-naming-of-lt-col-frederick-c-turner-jr-military-science-building (accessed June 28, 2022).
“Frederick C. Turner, Jr., Lieutenant Colonel, First Black Professor at Arkansas State, One of the First Two Black Graduates of Arkansas State.” https://www.astate.edu/a/military-science/hall-of-heroes/turner-frederick/index.dot (accessed June 28, 2022).
“Military Science Building Named for First African American Faculty Member, Frederick Turner.” https://www.astate.edu/news/military-science-building-named-for-first-african-american-faculty-member-frederick-turner (accessed June 28, 2022).
Turner, Frederick C., Jr. “Not Then, Not Ever.” https://www.astate.edu/a/asunews/featured/not-then-not-ever.dot (accessed June 28, 2022).
Lillie Mae Fears
Arkansas State University
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