Chuck Turner, former Boston city councilor and activist, dies

"I learned something from him every time we worked together."

Chuck Turner listens to a speaker during a commemoration in January of the 50th anniversary of the "People Before Highways Day" demonstration at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

Chuck Turner, a former Boston city councilor and longtime community activist, died Christmas Day at the age of 79, according to city officials.

In a tweet late Wednesday night, Mayor Marty Walsh called Turner a “staunch advocate for the people of Boston, who over the course of his lifetime helped bring about so much good for our city.”

“Boston has a heavy heart today with the news of his passing,” Walsh added.

Turner, a Cincinnati native, graduated from Harvard University in 1963 and went on to spend much of the next half-century as a local voice for job opportunities and affordable housing, particularly in Boston’s predominantly black neighborhoods. According to the Bay State Banner, he was seen as “the driving force” behind a 1983 ordinance mandating that 5o percent of construction jobs on public projects go to Boston residents and that 25 percent and 10 percent go to minorities and women, respectively.


Turner was elected to the Boston City Council — representing District 7, which includes Roxbury, along with parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway — in 1999 and successfully advocated in 2003 against a move by then-Gov. Mitt Romney to eliminate a number of state government affirmative action policies.

However, Turner was expelled by his fellow councilors following a federal bribery conviction in 2010 and subsequently sentenced to three years in prison for accepting $1,000 in cash from an FBI informant, who was seeking a liquor license, and later testifying that he didn’t recall the meeting. He later received a $106,000 settlement from the city after a court ruling that the council didn’t have the authority to expel him.

Turner was released from prison in 2013 and returned to community activism. Most recently, he was involved in the successful effort to change the name of Dudley Square to Nubian Square, which was finalized last week. According to Walsh, Turner also recently fought against the potential displacement of a local residency program for black artists.

Kim Janey, who currently holds Turner’s District 7 council seat and was the first to announce the news of his passing Wednesday, described him as a “giant” in the Roxbury neighborhood. Tito Jackson, who served as District 7 councilor between Turner and Janey, called him “one our fiercest freedom fighters.” Walsh’s policy chief, Joyce Linehan, tweeted Thursday morning that Turner was “a tireless and effective advocate for jobs, housing, and justice.”


“I learned something from him every time we worked together,” Linehan wrote.

According to the Bay State Banner, Turner died after a “long fight with cancer.” Janey told The Boston Globe that she learned of his death after speaking to Turner’s wife, Terri.

“Our community is better because of your activism and the lessons you shared,” Janey tweeted. “We owe you a debt of gratitude. May you be received by the ancestors.”



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