J.L. Turner Sr., Pioneering African-American Dallas Attorney

Introduction

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J.L. Turner Sr. was born in 1869 in Dallas County where he was reared on a farm. Following high school graduation, Turner left Dallas County to attend Wiley College in the East Texas city of Marshall. He then moved to Chicago where he received his LL.B. degree in 1896 from the Kent College of Law, which today is IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
 
In 1898 Turner returned to Dallas and practiced law downtown at 155 Main Street with Joseph E. Wiley, probably Dallas’s second African-American attorney. Turner himself was only the third or fourth African-American attorney ever to practice in Dallas, and he maintained his practice until his death in 1951.
 
Turner was very much a pioneer. By 1890, there were only twelve African-American lawyers in the entire state of Texas, and, as late as 1930, there were only twenty.  Obtaining a law degree made Turner unusual even for white lawyers at the time.  For most of the nineteenth century, candidates for admission to the bar usually lacked a formal legal education, having instead “read the law” under the tutelage of one or more older attorneys.  Texas did not have a bar exam until 1903. 
 
In recognition of Turner’s pioneering status, Dallas’s African-American attorneys formed the J.L. Turner Legal Association in 1952 as a key support group of the African-American bar. African-American attorneys were not accepted for member-ship into the Dallas Bar Association until 1963.
 
Source: John G. Browning & Carolyn Wright, We Stood on Their Shoulders: The First African American Attorneys in Texas, 59 How. L.J. 55 (2015).




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Howard Law Journal

 
                   
 
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As Old As Dallas Itself

 
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Dallas Observer article
 
           
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Dallas Morning News
article

 

              
 
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J.L. Turner Legal Association

 
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Hand-painted sign


 
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Index card for legal research


 
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Turner's house


 
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Turner's rolodex


 
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Texas law license certificates


 
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J.L. Turner Sr.'s eyeglasses

 
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Land title search

 
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Handwritten bill

 
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Case file

 
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Bachelor of Laws degree

 
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J.L. Turner Jr.'s childhood outfit

 
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Texas Bar Journal


 
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Funeral program