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Former City Councilor Chuck Turner Remembered As A 'Hero' Among Boston's Marginalized

In this 2008 file photo, former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner shouts after a news conference at Boston City Hall plaza. (AP)
In this 2008 file photo, former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner shouts after a news conference at Boston City Hall plaza. (AP)

White liberals, members of the Nation of Islam, generations of Latino political power, and other allies and loved ones of the late Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner packed into his memorial service Thursday to remember the man who ran on the campaign slogan: "bold, bright, and bald."

Turner died on Christmas Day at the age of 79, following a battle with cancer.

Sherry Smith, a longtime friend, was among hundreds who gathered at Roxbury Community College on Thursday. She recalled Turner’s "infectious energy” to do good in the community.

“Chuck was a person full of life," she said. "He made me feel like I wanted to be just like him — just go out and do something good for someone all the time, every day."

After graduating from Harvard in 1963, Turner embarked on a life of struggle for civil and economic justice in marginalized communities. In 1999, he won a seat representing Roxbury on the Boston City Council, where he served until he was convicted of bribery for allegedly accepting $1,000 from a police informant.

The council voted to remove him following the conviction, though Turner was later vindicated when a judge ruled the council had overstepped its authority, and awarded him $106,000.

For Turner’s opponents, his reputation would never recover from the conviction. But in Turner’s Boston, his only real crime was speaking truth to power.

“I have to tell the truth," said Tito Jackson, Turner's successor on the city council.  "Chuck Turner was never, never a crook.”

The line garnered some of the biggest applause of the service.

Jackson cited Turner opening a district city council office in Roxbury, an office not funded by his city councilor’s budget. Jackson said much of the rent for the district office came out of Turner’s own bank account.

"Understand, still to this day at the Boston City Council, there is not a budget for a district office," Jackson said. "The budget for the district office was [Turner's] bank account."

Turner, a longtime supporter of international causes, was also remembered for his solidarity across Boston’s ethnic lines. Chinese Progressive Association co-founder Suzanne Lee said Turner’s focus on uplifting the black community never lessened his support for Boston’s immigrants.

“We have a saying in Chinese ... that means ‘heroes arise from struggle.’ Chuck is a hero in our community," she said. "So we need to continue and don’t let his legacy and his work go to waste.”


Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.


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