Arkansas State renames building in honor of Lt. Col. Frederick C. Turner Jr.

Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 8:30 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 5, 2021 at 9:01 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - A history-making moment was celebrated at Arkansas State University with the renaming of the Military Science Building after a trailblazing alumnus. Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Frederick C. Turner, Jr. was the first black faculty member at Arkansas State.

But, before that, he was one of the first African-American students to be admitted to Arkansas State College. He graduated in 1960. Lt. Col. Turner, along with Walter Strong, became the first black students to graduate.

Lt. Col. Turner praised the late Dr. Carl R. Reng, then-President of Arkansas State College, for ensuring that he and others had a chance to enroll without problems during a difficult time in our nation’s history.

“He decided that rather than have us come out here to register with the hundreds of other students, we would register in his office and we were given our freshman orientation there and instructed to just show up in class, first day of school,” Lt. Col. Turner explained. “Let me tell you, he was brilliant in doing that because we avoided unnecessary publicity. We avoided any hostility. It never took place.”

Lt. Col. Turner appreciated that smooth transition. He had graduated salutatorian of his class at Booker T. Washington High School. (Jonesboro Public Schools weren’t completely desegregated until 1966.)

Following completion of the 1960 ROTC Summer Camp, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry and began a 22-year distinguished career, serving his community.

Dr. Reng asked Turner to serve as an assistant professor of military science for the A-State ROTC program. That meant he would become the first black faculty member at his alma mater.

“For three years, he mentored future Army officers right here in these walls,” Dr. Kelly Damphousse, chancellor of Arkansas State shared with the crowd of city and county dignitaries, family and friends gathered inside the Military Science Building, newly named for Turner.

“Ladies and Gentleman, we are creating history today at ASU and for many of us this is very special because it is our alma mater,” Major General George E. Barker said. Maj. Gen. Barker began his career through ROTC at Arkansas State.

Lt. Col. Turner served three tours of duty in Vietnam before coming back home to his family, the former Gussie Lee Jones and daughters, Suzette and Debbye.

“I personally want to extend my gratitude Lt. Col. Turner for being a pioneer that paved the way for black women and men like myself to receive a higher quality education,” Rashad Kirksey, former A-State SGA President said. Kirksey is now pursuing a degree in law.

Following his time at A-State, Lt. Col. Turner was selected for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and upon completion of his course was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He was assigned as a member of the staff of the Commander of U.S. Forces at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium.

“Nothing brings me more pleasure and honor than to be able to stand before this great man and introduce him to you,” Dr. Debbye Turner Bell said as she introduced her father during the ceremony. Dr. Bell, who is also a graduate of Arkansas State University, served as Miss America 1990.

“I stand before you with a heart full of honor and gratitude,” Lt. Col. Turner said during his remarks following the renaming of the building.

He retired from military service in Aug.1982.

In 2021, first at the request of the Student Government Association, and with the support of Chancellor Damphousse, the Arkansas State Board of Trustees unanimously approved the renaming of the Military Science Building as the Lt. Col. Frederick C. Turner, Jr. Military Science Building, honoring him for his historic roles at Arkansas State University.

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