Ross Carr Turner

Ross Carr Turner

Ross Carr Turner was a pillar of the Orange County community and surrounding areas through much of his adult life. He was a husband, father, grandfather, visionary, entrepreneur, barber, real estate investor, church founder, church builder, Pastor, Nurse, and community convenience store owner. He was often referred to as “Uncle Ross” by many White citizens of Hillsborough and nearby communities. His influence ran deep during his life, and continues to be felt by his surviving family members.

Turner experienced many events in life, and he seemed always to find ways to contribute to the greater good of the community, no matter 

the challenges placed before him. During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, Turner volunteered as a nurse, and was recognized for his service where the need arose.

After the end of the Korean War in 1953, Turner, who by then had become a Pastor, felt compelled by his faith to write a letter to the President to urge the creation of a nationally recognized day of prayer.

Who would ever have imagined this from the son of a slave woman (Polly Turner) and slave owner (Tom Turner)? Turner was born in 1871, a few years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation” on Sept. 22, 1862. It was made official Jan. 1, 1863, and slaves in any state were forever free. 

Young Turner grew up in unfavorable times and lived through unconsciounable segregation, discrimination and other inequities. He was driven by determination, persistence and perseverance to leave a powerful and momentous legacy for his descendants.

Ross Carr Turner married at the age of 55 to Irene Thompson Turner, who was 22-years-old at the time. They were married for 39 years and had nine children together. Five of the Turner descendants (Ross, Mary, Eli, Catherine and Ann) have passed. The other four children (Charles, Alice, Ida and Frank) range in ages of 78 to 84-years-old, and reside in Hillsborough, Burlington, and Philadelphia. Their oldest sister, Irene, lived in New York City. She was the first of Ross’s children to pass away.

Several of  the surviving children and grandchildren of Ross Carr Turner each have recalled in writing some of their favorite and most vivid memories of him, in their own words. Their passages follow.

Ross Carr Turner’s seventh child, Ida Louise Turner Lawson (80-years-old as of April 19th) remembers:  “When I was between five and 10-years-old, my 75-year-old father and I would leave on the only Trailways bus that came through Hillsborough going to Durham, running once in the morning and returning in the evening. My father would take me to Duke University Hospital for my appointments because of a heart condition I was born with.

Many times, people would see my father and me getting on and off the bus at the station in Durham. Sometimes, they would ask my daddy is that your granddaughter? He would say “that my daughter; the Seventh child of Ten children”.

Daddy was 69 when I was born.  When mother and father married, daddy was 55-years-old and mom was 22-years-old.  My oldest brother, Henry Ross Turner Jr., was a nurse at Watts Hospital in Durham. He got me a job as a nurse’s maid, emptying bed pans of patients. One evening, we were coming home to Hillsborough from work. Ross shared with me how people talked about our daddy’s age and his ability to still have children. He was 75-years-old when my last sibling, Annie Jane, was born.

Grandson Ronald Turner, son of   Henry (Ross) Turner, shares personal accounts he experienced in 1964: When I was 10-years-old, I lived on Nash Street, next door to grandfather.  I remember sitting by his bed side a lot. I used to get water for him to drink. I would also get coal for the coal-burning stove in his bedroom, because his feet were always cold. I would wrap them up in a towel with a warm masonry brick. He always kept a Bible by his side, and he would read it to me. Also, he would anoint my head with Holy Oil and pray for me. Grandfather like dried fruit and would share some with me. Grandfather was a good person He shaped my life forever.

Granddaughter Quanda Turner, daughter of Ida Turner,  shares her story of being an in-home caregiver at a very young age: I was 3 to 5-years-old and cared for my granddaddy while my grandmother was out working during the week to provide for her husband and granddaughter. My grandfather was very old and frail. I never remembered him standing and walking on his own. When he was not in bed, he had to have assistance to sit in a chair, or go outside to sit on the front porch and in the yard. I remembered seeing him in a lounge chair, and he looked very uncomfortable the way he was positioned. 

I don’t remember much conversation between me and my grandfather. I remember getting him water, whether he had asked for it or not. My grandmother had trained me well. As I was a very young child, my frontal lobe was certainly still in the stages of development. I vividly recall three instances that attest to my thought process. During the day, when I was supposed to be caring for granddaddy — or ‘babysitting, as I affectionately referred to it to my grandmother, I spent more time outside with other children in the neighborhood. However, I thought I had enough sense to be back in the house before she returned home. I timed it perfectly. I would watch for the red Ford Galaxy coming down Nash Street. When I saw it, I would take off running to get in the house, and back in my grandfather’s room, I’d sit and wait for my grandmother to come in to check on us. 

I did not realize she could see me. My grandmother pulled up alongside me when I was running back to the ‘Big House,’ which is what we called my grandparents’ home. When my grandmother asked me how things were, I was still trying to catch my breath from running to beat her in the house. 

My second vivid memory was that when my grandfather passed, I was at a neighbor’s house watching TV.  It was a Saturday or Sunday, I was six-years-old. I didn’t understand the concept of death. When I was called to come home from the neighbor’s house when my grandfather died, I ran home asking “Who killed him? Who Killed my granddaddy?” I didn’t understand that he had died from his ailments and from old age. He was 94. 

Lastly, I remembered my grandfather’s remains were brought back to the “Big Home” from Chavis Funeral Home for the public viewing. Once all the family, friends and visitors were gone or asleep; my grandmother and I went into the living room were his body laid in state overnight. We stood there watching over him. Seeing him lying there; knowing he would never return to his bedroom. I did not get much sleep that night. I knew my life would be forever changed. My grandfather’s ability to accomplish, acquire and serve his community left an indelible impression on the fiber of my being, and has been my moral compass in life.

Granddaughter Theresa Turner Clark, daughter of Henry Ross Turner, reminisced on her walk down memory lane: What I recall about my grandfather warms my heart today after 55 years of his passing. 

In the 1950s, I remember a handsome, tall, statue of a man who used to stand between his house and ours. He gazed out at the road and the surroundings as if he was giving thanks for all that he was blessed with. He was a property owner, a business man, a minister, a leader and someone to who others looked up. When white people came by to visit with him, I remember they would ask for ‘Uncle Ross.’  I would say to myself, ‘he’s not your uncle.’  In reality, though, he was kin, and related to many of them by blood. Granddaddy was related to the Strudwicks and Paynes in Hillsborough, too.

Granddaddy would send me to Carr’s Grocery Store to buy bananas and prunes for him. He would say, “I want speckled bananas” (very ripe). I would happily walk one mile — at the ages of 8-12-years-old — to make his purchases. When I gave him his prunes, he would put them in his grip (brief case), as he called it. He rewarded me by reaching into his grip with his hands shaking and pull out two old prunes. “These are for you,” he would say. Today, when I eat prunes, I think of my granddaddy and reflect on how a reward of two little, old prunes was enough payment to make me smile and lick my lips with satisfaction. I also remember cooking for him and taking the food to him in bed.

Granddaddy gave my father, Henry Ross and my mother, Delois Bumphus Turner a two-room house on Nash Street when they married. They raised four children into adulthood in that house, which they expanded over the years with four additional rooms.  Ross Carr Tuner cared for us grandchildren so our parents could work.

My relationship with him was very special. He taught me about God and to always pray. Usually when I saw him, he had his Bible and talked about God’s word. I attended prayer meetings and Bible study in his home.  Granddaddy was my rock and I am so thankful to have many memorable experiences with him.

On a Sunday evening in 1965, I was walking home from a classmate’s house and I saw a hearse pass by. Little did I know, inside that black, long station wagon-like vehicle was the body of the person I admired and loved so dearly. It was my granddaddy, Ross Carr Turner. I remember the pain and sense of loss when I got home. My granddaddy was gone and not in his bed where he normally was found.

My father told me about the times his father lived in New York and owned a barber shop, as well as in Winston-Salem.  Granddaddy had a glamorous daughter named Irene. She lived in New York and was friends with the award-winning actress Lena Horne.  

In my eyes and heart, Ross Carr Turner was an honorable and powerful man whose legacy is exhibited in the lives of his grandchildren.  

Granddaughter Theresa Turner Ellbery, daughter of Alice Turner displayed her gratitude during Black History Month: In honor of the month designated to celebrating the history we cherish and celebrate daily, I am proudly honoring my grandfather, Ross Carr Turner. The National Day of Prayer was established as The Spring Observance. It was enacted in 1952 by the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. Two of  Turner’s daughters, Catherine and Alice, assisted their father in composing a letter with the final copy being typed by his daughter-in-law, Delois Bumphus Turner.

 Ross Turner was the founder, builder, and Pastor of three churches in the Triangle area:  Temple of Truth United Holy Church in Hillsborough; White Rock Holy Church in Chapel Hill; and Obie’s Chapel United Holy Church of America in Timberlake. Turner sent the letter in a 4-cent postage-stamped envelope to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower requesting “a National Day of Prayer” for World Peace because of the Korean War that began in 1950, and unofficially end in 1953. 

Turner later received a letter in response to his request notifying him of the President’s Proclamation that designated the “first Thursday in May as the day on which the people of the United States may turn to God in Prayer and Meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.”  I doubt any of this is recorded or can be found in the family archives, but we keep it in our hearts and minds and are blessed to have had praying, godly grandparents.

I was also proud to discover my grandfather served as a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Grandson David Mitchell, son of Cathrine Turner: My family, my friends please take the time read this history event that happened because of my grandfather and is now a national holiday.

For as long as I can remember, prayer has been a foundational part of my family’s daily activity. So much so, that it also held an important place in both the history of my family and the nation. I first heard this story from my mother, Catherine Turner Mitchell, who was a native of what was back then called Hillsboro. My mother was one of nine siblings raised in a Christian family on Nash Street.

Her parents, Ross Carr and Ireine Thompson Turner, were 55- and 22-years-old, respectively, when they married. They raised their family in an environment of service to God, with prayer being a daily activity in the home.

As the story was told, my mother, who always had a beautiful handwriting style, was asked by my grandfather to draft an important letter with the assistance of her sister, Alice. When he told her the letter was being sent to the President of the United States, my mother began to cry. No one had ever asked her to do something this important. The letter was given to my mother’s brother (Henry Ross’s) wife, Delois, who professionally typed the letter before it was sent to Washington, D.C.

Years later, at the old Turner home on Nash Street, the Turners were celebrating their second family reunion.  It was then that I was given the first opportunity to view and read aloud my grandfather’s letter and the president’s response.  It was a proud day for me and the Turner family.

In the letter Grandfather had requested that the president establish a time of fasting for the nation. In his response, President Eisenhower put out a proclamation proclaiming a National Day of Prayer.  From that moment on, I have always been proud of the role both my grandfather and mother played in both family and national history.