Brain Byte

Black History Is: Charles Henry Turner

  • Published21 Feb 2024
  • Author Cyrenna Cooper
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

Charles Henry Turner was a pioneer in the field of insect behavior.

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Charles Henry Turner Brain Byte
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American behavioral scientist Charles Henry Turner was a pioneer in the field of entomology  the study of insect behavior. In 1892, Turner became the first African American to receive a graduate degree from the University of Cincinnati. By 1907, he earned a doctorate in zoology from the University of Chicago, becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the institution. Despite his accomplishments, the University of Chicago turned him down for a faculty position. The rejection led Turner to become a science teacher at Sumner High School in St. Louis, the first high school for Black students west of the Mississippi.

Consequently, Sumner High School is where Turner performed most of his experiments, as he faced challenges gaining support from university or institutional facilities. Nevertheless, Turner carried on his work. His observations provided evidence of insects’ abilities to learn and recognize patterns, with one of his most significant discoveries demonstrating that insects can hear and change their behavior based on previous experiences. In addition to his many contributions to science, Turner was an academic activist for civil rights, arguing education was vital in ending racism.

Design by Adrienne Tong.

Image in The Crisis. Restored by Adam Cuerden.



Abramson, C. I. (2019). Charles Henry Turner | American scientist. In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Katsnelson, A. (n.d.). Charles Henry Turner’s Insights into Animal Behavior Were a Century Ahead of Their Time.

Profile of Charles Henry Turner. (2018). Profile of Charles Henry Turner. University of Cincinnati.

Turner, C. H. (1921). W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

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