The Thomas Wyatt Turner Fellowship at Cornell University honors the life and legacy of Thomas Wyatt Turner, the first Black American to receive a Ph.D. in Botany and the first Black person to receive a Ph.D. in any study at Cornell University. The fellowship not only honors Turner as an unsung hero in his academic accomplishments but also his leadership in fighting for justice, equality, human rights, access to education, and more.
Born and raised in Maryland to a family of sharecroppers, Turner began his educational journey at Episcopal schools, after being denied entry at Catholic schools, and the Howard University Preparatory School while simultaneously working on his family’s fields.
He received his B.S. (1901) and M.A. (1905) degrees at Howard University. Upon graduation, Turner taught at the Tuskegee Institute and several public schools in Baltimore, Maryland, eventually becoming a professor of botany at Howard University. At Howard he served as the founding head of the Department of Botany and Acting Dean of Howard’s School of Education.