Retiring state Rep. Johnnie Turner, left, of Memphis stands at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel during the commemoration of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Clint Confehr and Sally Levine, an ACLU-TN lifetime achievement award winner, looks into the camera held by her son, Mark, at the Germantown Cafe on Mother’s Day. Courtesy Photo

By Clint Confehr 

NASHVILLE, TN — A woman whose life-long work for equality and justice includes sit-ins, and marches with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being honored by the ACLU of Tennessee.

“Throughout her life — from the streets to the capitol — Johnnie Turner has fought for the ideals of justice and equality,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said while announcing its Nov. 29 presentation of Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Simultaneously, ACLU-TN honors equality and justice advocate Sally Levine who cofounded the Drivers’ License Reinstatement Fund. A long-time League of Women Voters leader, Levine fostered Tying Nashville Together, and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope. Levine made social and economic justice ideals a reality for Tennesseans, Weinberg said. She’s a “persistent change-maker who seeks concrete solutions to critical human rights concerns.”

During the ACLU’s 6-8 p.m. event in the Noah Liff Opera Center, 3622 Redmon St., Ari Afsar, star of the Chicago production of “Hamilton,” will perform. The Nov. 29 event is the organization’s 50th anniversary of its Constitution Uncorked fundraiser. For more, call (615) 320-7142.

ACLU-TN works on many issues. Recently, a judge reaffirmed one of its court5 victories. By spying on political activists this decade, Memphis police violated a 1978 court order against monitoring constitutionally-protected political activities. See “Judge Rules Against Memphis Police” at against-memphis-police/ .

“They do great work,” said Levine, who’s been on the ACLU’s board. She also helped establish Jefferson Street’s neighborhood social justice center.

Turner is described by ACLU-TN as “a standard-bearer for the rights of all people in our state.” When retiring, she said, “I can walk out now and feel good about what I’ve accomplished.” Last year, she created what became a task force on unsolved civil rights crimes. It held emotional hearings for relatives seeking closure for loved ones victimized by unsolved crimes. Task force findings prompted legislative initiatives.

Told that the ACLU is honoring Turner, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said she’s a civil rights trailblazer.

“From her arrest as a student at a segregated gathering at Overton Park, to her work at the NAACP, and her leadership as a state representative,” Harris said, “Ms. Turner is known by everyone for the important roles she’s played in the fight for civil rights.”

The “segregated gathering” led to Turner’s arrest right after she put $1 in a collection plate. “That case went all the way to the Supreme Court twice because the Supreme Court refused to hear it” the first time, Turner told the Tribune after speaking April 4 from the balcony at Dr. King’s Lorraine Motel room during the commemoration of the slain civil rights leader’s death.

“What we are working on [now] is changing the hearts of people,” Turner said. “The resurgence of hate mongers … who … repressed their prejudiced views, are now bold [at] Charlottesville … They … still harbor those feelings of superiority and those feelings that we are less than they are … and they are going to make America great again …”

For more on Sally Levine and Johnnie Turner, see

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...