"Writer and fighter" activist Beauty Turner dies

Beauty Turner, considered by many to be one of the most passionate and spirited activists in Chicago public housing, died yesterday after suffering a brain aneurysm earlier in the week.

She was 51.

Family members say her incredible enthusiasm and energy will be deeply missed.

"She gave a voice to the voiceless," says Marvin "Thunder" Robinson, Turner's nephew. "She put her life before others. She cared about the weak, and she sympathized with the strong."

Public housing residents remember her as a person who listened to their concerns and advocated on their behalf. 

"She spoke for us," says Willie Burrell, the president for the advisory council for the Northeast scattered site.

Burrell met Turner 20 years ago, when he was a housing authority employee. He described her as effective and fearless, willing to go into the most dangerous public housing developments to help the vulnerable.

"Usually, reporters did not venture into those areas because they felt they were not safe, but she did not hesitate to make sure those voices were heard," Burrell says. 

Turner, who lived in the Robert Taylor Homes for 16 years, wrote for several publications, including Residents' Journal, the South Street Journal and the Hyde Park Herald.

She also created the well-known "Ghetto Bus Tours," taking scholars, journalists and suburbanites on tours through new and old public housing communities around the city, explaining the nuance of the situation.

She received many awards, including the New America award from the Society of Professional Journalists, two Studs Terkel Awards and an Associated Press Award, according to her website, Windy City World Wind News. 

Public housing officials are also mourning her loss. Derek Hill, press secretary for the Chicago Housing Authority, says he didn't always agree with Turner, who publicly questioned CHA plans and policies, but he respected her. 

"We had an interesting relationship, but she was a very nice person, very concerned about others," Hill says. "It saddens me that we have lost her."

Turner was known for her kindness and caring nature, says Ethan Michaeli, her editor for 9 years at the Chicago publication Residents' Journal. But she was also known for her fiery nature when she believed in something.  

"She was very sweet, loved a good joke and very kind, unless she was fired up about a social justice issue," says Michaeli. "Her version of social justice was one where race and poverty did not influence anyone's place in society."

In one of her last blog posts, Turner wrote about her reaction to Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election. 

"We can no longer accept being put in the back ground, but lift our heads, our hearts and our minds and our bodies and lay our issues at his feet," she wrote. "I'm glad that my eyes have seen and witness that we as a people can become anything or anyone in America."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Discuss

FRANK EDWARDS, 12-19-2008

Sad day for Chicago. She will be missed.

XTINA KAYE, 01-25-2009

I LOVED Beauty - she was an awesome woman. Her spirit and optimism helped me more than she could have ever known. I tried to do whatever I could for her, and believe me, it was not enough. I'm dam*ned sad that she is gone.