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Harry Turner

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Harry Turner's oral history interview 


Link to the Playlist


Recorded on November 13, 2009, interview conducted by Dr. James Conrad, Dr. Shannon Carter, and JP Sloop. 

Full video interview 0.58 hour.

Video production made by CLiC (Converging Literacies Center), a part of Texas A&M University-Commerce. 


For more information 

Digital Collections, James G. Gee Library.


CLiC (Converging Literacies Center) 

National Conversation on Writing 



Cypress District Churches, Mt. Moriah Temple Baptist Church, Sunday School, Congregation, Norris community, Integration,  East Texas State University,  Election Campaign, Women role in Church, Deacon, Community service, Black-on-Black crime, Norris in 1960s


Harry Turner described the historical events related to the church. The Cypress District  consists of 62 churches such as Mt. Moriah (Commerce), St. Paul (Ladonia), Bethlehem (Greenville), and East Caney (Sulphur Springs). The name of Mt. Moriah Temple Baptist reflects the outreach to the community. Turner spent his childhood in the church with his family members.  Sunday school lasted the entire day. People from various cities joined in the  weekly congregation and Summer Conferences. He received a bachelor degree in history and psychology from East Texas State University.


The Church was difficult to access because of the dirt roads. It was paved in late 1950s through the initiative of Ivory Moore. He also brought water service into the community. People returning from World War II found the community a frustrating place to live and different from the other towns they were used to, so people kept moving out of the community. Also, integration contributed to the changing mentality of the youth. People in those days spend luxurious lifestyle in café. Nevertheless, the church was the center for social gatherings for African Americans in Commerce. University people who are active for the church are Dr. Dawson, Dr. Talbot, and Mr. Moore. The Baptist tradition emphasizes education related activities. At one time, the congregation was about 100-150 people each week, but nowadays the church sees about 100 people weekly. In the 1960s-1970s, the church and the university had cooperative programs: Friday Night Life and The Third Sunday Choir. Lavelle Hendrix is the minister who also works for the university.  The problem with the  reputation of the church is that many people assume it is a church for Blacks only.


The church provided a session during the election campaign but both candidates had to come. Turner said that 60% of Blacks voted for Obama because of his policies, his political record, and he is African American. He assumed that out of 10 church members, seven voted Democrat, two voted Republican, and one undecided. In the 1960s, the church provided transportation for Black voters from rural areas to register to vote. Women’s roles in the church is the second-class and sub-urban until the present. Traditional southern churches have deaconesses stand in the back row. There have never been any female preachers. Some female members used to have the title of Mother of the Church, but now they are called deacon ladies. The Deacon’s duty begins during the devotion session. Two to four deacons and a mission sister start a prayer and pass the offering among members. Donations are used for utilities, rent, miscellaneous, and community support. The church sometimes helps people with financial need.  Since it was established in 1892, the church building is used for various purposes.  Normally it served for community assembly. There have been 6-7 wedding ceremonies  from 2000-2006. University students used it for a graduation party, under the conditions of no alcohol, no profanity, no vocal music, and cleaning up.


The Norris community had its own police officers. Police treated black-on-black crime differently. It took longer to investigate and find the culprit. In the 1960s, the only reasons that people from other parts of Commerce would enter the Norris community were for drugs and prostitutes. 




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Norris School 

 Link to the Playlist:  http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL443D58F9867D1F32

Recorded on Febrary 9, 2010, Presented by Harry Turner.  

Full video interview 0.18 hour.

Video production made by CLiC (Converging Literacies Center), a part of Texas A&M University-Commerce. 

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