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Jamaica NAACP dedicates garden to Turner

Five generations of the Turner family joined Jamaica civic leaders Saturday to celebrate their shared history by dedicating the backyard garden started by Frank Mitchell Turner Sr., family patriarch and founder of the Jamaica branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in his memory.

Elected officials, including City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), pledged to make the garden at 108-15 171st St. in Jamaica a historic landmark at Saturday's dedication and Turner family reunion.

The house on 171st Street in Jamaica has been home to different members of the Turner family for 85 years, but Frank Mitchell Turner's garden has always been a mainstay. He first created the garden, which now runs along the side and back of the house, when the family moved to Jamaica in the late 1910s, said Henry Duncan Turner, the eldest of Frank Mitchell's six sons.

But in the 1920s, Frank Turner, who worked with civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois to create the NAACP, planted another seed that would also flourish - the Jamaica branch of the association.

The fledgling chapter held some of its first meetings at the Allen A.M.E. Church on South Road, the predecessor to the Greater Allen Cathedral that now stands on Merrick Boulevard, said Jean Phelps, the branch's current president.

"The Jamaica branch has stood at the forefront for 76 years fighting for civil rights in Queens and the nation," she said. "This is the premier branch in the nation."

Turner and his wife were among the crusaders who stopped the Ku Klux Klan from holding their parades on Hillside Avenue, Phelps said.

"I don't know if Frank Turner knew what the Jamaica branch would mean," said state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), a former president of the youth council. "It's a tradition that translates into family and moving society in a different direction."

And while the NAACP chapter may be Turner's public legacy, his family is ready to share a more private legacy - his garden - with the community.

"We felt this garden, which our father attended to for so many years and which meant so much to this community, should always be protected and preserved," said W. Burghardt Turner, Frank and his wife, Frosty's, third son.

Frank Turner died in 1941, and Henry Duncan Turner took over the care of the garden after he returned from World War II in 1946, he said.

"My father was a gardener, and when I went into the service another part of the family moved into the house and the garden went to pot," he said.

Henry Duncan Turner expanded the garden, growing dahlias and orchids, and established a greenhouse as well, he said. And the 91-year-old still gets his hands dirty tending the plants and pulling weeds, he said.

After the dedication and family reunion Saturday, a chrome sign was posted in the garden, near the sidewalk declaring the greenery a memorial to Frank and Frosty Turner.

About 75 family members spanning five generations came in from Hawaii, California, Nevada, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina for the dedication.

Former City Councilman Archie Spigner said the sign will let people know what the garden means.

"Before I knew who lived here I would drive by and I used to see the orchids in the windows, and I knew someone special lived here," he said.

But his successor, Comrie, who sits on the Council's Land Use committee and the Landmarks subcommittee, made it his job to make the garden a historic landmark.

"It's very easy for me to get the land use division out here, and I guarantee that by this time next year this site will be landmarked," he said.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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