White liberals, members of the Nation of Islam, generations of Latino political power, and other allies and loved ones of the late Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner packed into his memorial service last Thursday to remember the man who ran on the campaign slogan: “bold, bright, and bald.” Mr. Turner died of cancer on Christmas Day at the age of 79.
After graduating from Harvard in 1963, Mr. Turner embarked on a life of struggle for civil and economic justice in marginalized communities. In 1999, he won a seat representing Roxbury on the Boston City Council, where he served until he was convicted of bribery for allegedly accepting $1,000 from a police informant.
The council voted to remove him following the conviction, although Turner was later vindicated on that count when a judge ruled the council had overstepped its authority, and awarded him $106,000.
For his opponents, his reputation would never recover from the conviction. But in Chuck Turner’s Boston, his only real crime was speaking truth to power. “I have to tell the truth,” said Tito Jackson, Mr. Turner’s successor on the city council. “Chuck Turner was never, never a crook.” The line garnered some of the biggest applause at the service.
Jackson talked about Mr. Turner’s opening a district city council office in Roxbury, an office not funded by his city councillor’s budget. Jackson said much of the rent for the district office came out of Mr. Turner’s own bank account.
“Understand, still to this day at the Boston City Council, there is not a budget for a district office,” Jackson said. “The budget for the district office was [his] bank account.”
Mr. Turner, a longtime supporter of international causes, was also remembered for his solidarity across Boston’s ethnic lines. Chinese Progressive Association co-founder Suzanne Lee said that Mr. Turner’s focus on uplifting the black community never lessened his support for Boston’s immigrants.
“We have a saying in Chinese ... that means ‘heroes arise from struggle.’ Chuck is a hero in our community,” she said. “So, we need to continue and don’t let his legacy and his work go to waste.”
This story was first published by WBUR 90.9FM on Jan. 9. WBUR and the Reporter share content through a media partnership.