Thomas Wyatt Turner


Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner, biologist, professor, and Catholic civil rights activist, accepts an honorary degree at Catholic University in 1976. (Image: Special Collections, Mullen Libraries, The Catholic University of America)


In 1976, when Dr. Thomas Wyatt Turner (1877-1978) was 99 years old, he was awarded an honorary degree by The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Turner had been a student at the University in 1901, before the University started an official policy of excluding Black students. He accepted an offer to teach science at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama before completing his degree, for financial reasons. Nonetheless, Turner became a voice arguing for the admissions of Black students at the University years later, after the University began barring their admittance. The years between Turner’s attendance at the University and his 1976 acceptance of the honorary degree span the tangled history of exclusion and inclusion at the University.

For more on Thomas Wyatt Turner's remarkable life, see our website on Thomas Wyatt Turner and the Federated Colored Catholics