Teacher, administrator, writer, scholar, international authority, Tuskegee Airman – these were some of the parts that made up the social worker, John B. Turner. He began his career in 1948 as Program Secretary at the Butler Street YMCA in Atlanta. World War II had come along when he was in the midst of his undergraduate curriculum at Morehouse College in Atlanta, so he joined the military as a Tuskegee Airman, becoming a First Lieutenant. When the war was over he resumed his interrupted work on his BA from Morehouse and went on to secure his MSc in Social Administration at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio in 1948.
In 1950 John Turner became an Instructor at Atlanta University and in 1952 an area worker for the Welfare Federation of Cleveland, Ohio where he later became Director of Field Services in 1959. During this time he was also working on his Doctorate at Case Western and began his climb up the ladder of academia. For 10 years (1957-1967) he was Instructor, Assistant and Associate Professor, and Professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences there, and served as its Associate Dean and Dean from 1968-1973.
Many short term assignments dotted his career. Several summers were spent as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Toronto, McGill University in Montreal, Smith College, and as a Fulbright Scholar in Cairo, Egypt. In July 1971, he was a Short Term American Grantee of the U.S. State Department in Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. From 1966 to 1971 he was Consultant to the National Urban League, and from 1972 to 1975 he served as Consultant in an International Research Program in Cairo for DHEW. In 1977, he was a Visiting Professor and Consultant at the University of Minia in Egypt.
Beginning in 1970, Dr. Turner's international focus included participation in the International Council on Social Welfare as a member of the U.S. Committee, and Chairman for two years. He was a charter member of the International Association of Applied Social Scientists. His professional and community organizational activities in this country are just too numerous to mention. They range from agencies in the social welfare field and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to the Cleveland Institute of Art of which he was Trustee. He took on a political leadership role as an elected City Commissioner in East Cleveland, Ohio.
John Turner was a prolific writer with numerous published articles and books to his credit. He authored the U.S. Report to the XVIIth International Conference on Social Welfare held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1974 entitled Development and Participation: Operational Implications for Social Welfare. He was Editor-in-Chief of the two-volume 1977 Encyclopedia of Social Work published by the National Association of Social Workers. The volumes include 1760 pages with 192 articles, 106 biographies, and 54 statistical tables.
He was the President of the National Conference of Social Work in 1978. His interest in the National Conference led him from the Program Committee in 1964 where he was Vice Chairman of the Community Organization Section, through Chairmanship of the Division, the Second Vice Presidency in 1972-1973, Chairmanship of Institute Task Forces in both 1975 and 1976.
Dr. Turner became the Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill in 1981, where he was the first African American Dean of the University. During his time as Dean he led the School to national renown as a research institution, and collaborated with financier Jack Tate and nationally known newsman Charles Kuralt to fund a state-of-the-art building for the Social Work School. Dr. Turner continued as beloved Dean at UNC until his retirement in 1992. He continued to be involved with the School as a Professor Emeritus until his death in 2009.