His Pioneering Discoveries Changed How We Understand Insects

Charles Henry Turner
Abeni Jones
December 22, 2019

Charles Henry Turner was born in 1867, just two years after the end of the Civil War. 

His parents believed education was key to success, and Charles took it to heart. He was the valedictorian of his high school class, and went on to get a Bachelors AND Masters in Biology - in 1892!

By the time he got his Master’s, he already had an article published in the prestigious journal Science - the first Black person to do so.

He then worked on his PhD, and eventually graduated magna cum laude with a doctorate in Zoology. Despite his brilliance, though, racists tried to stifle him.

For the last 14 years of his career, he held down a job as a high school science teacher - no University would hire him full-time because of racism. 

Despite this, he published groundbreaking articles about birds, fish, and especially insects. He discovered that ants communicate via a type of “dance,” eventually called “Turner Circling,” and that bees see in color.

He also supported the local “colored” YMCA, wrote articles about racial equality and education, and was committed to civil rights.

When institutions deny you your seat at the table, it can be tempting to give up. But Turner refused, instead making his own seat. He used what he had and changed our understanding of insects and animals forever!

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