Albert Turner Sr., a civil rights activist who participated in voting rights efforts in the South in the 1960s and led the mule wagon that carried the body of Martin Luther King Jr., has died.
Turner, 64, died Thursday of heart failure at Selma Baptist Hospital while awaiting surgery to remove part of his colon after a bout of abdominal bleeding, his brother, Robert Turner, said Friday. "It took everybody by surprise because he was in real good spirits," said Turner. "Nobody thought this was life-threatening."
Turner was Alabama field secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1965, when he helped lead the aborted Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march that was blocked by stick-swinging state troopers. The day came to be known as "Bloody Sunday."
Selma attorney J.L. Chestnut said it was fitting that Turner led the wagon carrying King's body in 1968 as the nation watched the slain civil rights leader's funeral procession in Atlanta.
"The wagon showed King's connection with the poor people," said Chestnut. "Al was selected to carry that wagon because he was King's point man during the entire civil rights struggle."
Turner lived in Marion, Ala., all his life and traced his ancestry back to slaves who worked on cotton plantations there. He said last year that racial differences had faded in the town.
"People in Marion . . . like to be out front about things," he said. "People here get along."
During the 1980s, Turner was among a group of civil rights workers put on trial on federal charges of voter fraud in west Alabama, where activists said Republicans were trying to reduce black voting. Turner was found not guilty.
"It was no accident that the government indicted both Albert and his wife on charges of voter fraud, and that the government lost both times," Chestnut said.
Prosecutors had said Turner, his wife, Evelyn, and a third defendant had altered absentee ballots collected from rural blacks to get more votes for candidates they backed. Turner and his co-defendants said they changed ballots only when voters, many of them elderly and poorly educated, asked them to, which is legal.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete, Turner's brother said.