Turner Theological Seminary began as a department of Morris Brown College in 1894. For nine years, Alfred Steward, D.D., a former United States Army chaplain, was elected the first dean of theology. In the interim, the Rev. E. L. Chew was also elected, but the Rev. E. W. Lee, a former principal who was subsequently elected president of Morris Brown College, was the first to serve as dean of theology. Twelve persons made up the first student body. The name Turner Theological Seminary was approved in 1900 in honor of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, the resident Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and senior bishop of the denomination at that time.
The Seminary remained on the campus of Morris Brown College until 1957 when a building was acquired at 557 Mitchell Street. The Trustee Board of Morris Brown College, under the leadership of Bishop William Reid Wilkes, Sr., authorized Turner Theological Seminary to become a founding constituent of the Interdenominational Theological Center in 1958. Dr. George A. Sewell was appointed Director/Dean. A charter was obtained in 1975 and a separate Board of Trustees was appointed under the leadership of Bishop Richard Allen Hildebrand.
The seminary received its own charter in 1975 and its first separate Board of Trustees was elected. Those who followed Dr. Sewell as deans have included Dr. Josephus R. Coan, Dr. Cecil W. Cone, Dr. George L. Champion, and Dr. Clayton D. Wilkerson. Dr. Daniel W. Jacobs Sr. served as dean from 1985 to 2008. During his tenure the Frederick Hilborn Talbot Hall was erected and the enrollment more than doubled.
Within a year of the election of Dr. Daniel W. Jacobs. Sr. as Dean of Turner Theological Seminary in 1985, construction was begun on the Frederick Hilborn Talbot Hall at a cost of S2.8 million. This facility was the result of the tireless efforts of Bishop Talbot and Dr. Jacobs. It contains offices, a chapel, laundromat, concession area, thirty-two dormitory rooms, twenty efficiencies, and five one-bedroom apartments. It became occupied in October 1987.
Dr. John F. Green, a Turner alumnus, succeeded Dr. Jacobs upon his retirement in 2008, with a unique vision for continuing Turner’s pursuit of excellence as an institution for the preparation of young men and women for every division of Christian work. President-Dean Green served the school distinctively with innovative programming to highlight the achievements of its’ alumni in the Church and community, while creating an additional fundraising platform to underwrite the growing student body and its expanding curricula engagement with the four other constituent schools of the ITC. The annual Founders’ Observance expanded beyond the celebratory Convocation to include an Alumni Symposium, Pastors Conference, and a Turner Alumni Hall of Fame honoring the exemplary achievements of notable alumni and other denominational leaders. Dr. Green afforded this significant legacy to his successor, Turner alumna, The Reverend Ammie L. Davis, PhD, on December 15, 2021, as he accepted the position of Executive Director of Global Ministries for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Concurrently, the Turner Board of Trustees selected and celebrates Dr. Davis’ becoming the first female to hold the highest office of the school in its history – The Eighth President-Dean of Henry McNeal Turner Theological Seminary.
Turner remains committed to its motto “For a Prepared Ministry” in keeping with the aim of its founders to be “an institution for the preparation of young men and women for every department of Christian work.” Turner graduates can be found serving in all areas of the Church: college and seminary teachers and presidents, pastors, presiding elders, and lay-leaders, and civic and political officials.
The Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) of which Turner Seminary is one of five constituent schools, is an ecumenical graduate school accredited by the Association of Theological Schools of the USA and Canada and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. As such, Turner Theological Seminary students, through the ITC, are exposed to an interdenominational, multi-racial faculty and study body and may receive one of six degrees offered. They include Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Church Music, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling. Turner Seminary graduates also participate in many areas of Christian ministry within the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Among our notable alumni and alumnae now serving in the African Methodist Episcopal Church as bishops, pastors, professors and chaplains, include but are not limited to: Bishops Adam Jefferson Richardson, Jr., Preston W. Williams, II, James Levert Davis, E. Earl McCloud, Samuel L. Green, Sr., Julius H. McAllister, Michael Mitchell, and John White, all now serving as active Bishops in the AME Church. Others include Drs. William Whatley, George Moore, Gregory Eason, Deborah Grant, Jacquelyn Grant, Terence Gray, Leslie White, Vincent Mitchell, Wesley Reid, David Green, Carolyn McCrary, John F. Green, and the current President-Dean, Dr. Ammie L. Davis.