By Dr. Valerie WardlawGlynn Turman, the venerable Emmy-winning actor brings his megawatt smile and huge talent to the small screen in the limited ABC series, Women of the Movement, the story of Mamie Till – Mobley who sought justice for her son Emmett Till following his brutal murder in 1955. Till’s story continues to reverberate sixty years later as the nation continues to grapple with senseless, race-based murders.
Turman plays the role of Mose Wright, the great-uncle of Till who invited Emmett to spend the summer in Money, Mississippi. The Jacksonville Free Press had the opportunity to speak with the Emmy-winning actor:
JFP: I would be remised if I didn’t start with this…I have to say it…we will always treasure Leroy “Preach” Jackson. You know that right?
GT: [Laughter]….I will always be Preach!
JFP: Yes – beloved Preach! What does it mean to you as an actor, that a classic movie like Cooley High continues to live on?
GT: It’s great because you never think about it like that when you go into it. We were just admitted into the National Film Registry Association so that was monumental as well.
JFP: Congratulations on your vast body of work! And even though we are in a pandemic, it appears that you have been busy?
GT: I have been busy! I don’t know how this is happening. It’s just been crazy. For the last two years, I have been going at it. And they have been important pieces, good roles. All these many years later, I’m thankful that these roles are still coming.
JFP: I’m amazed that as a 12-year-old, your mom surrounded you with a few of the greats…James Baldwin…Lorraine Hansberry. Can you tell us about your mom?
GT: Well yes, as a matter of fact, I’m just finishing up a documentary on my life especially that segment of my life. She was a single mom. I was born in Harlem, and we lived there until I was eight or nine years old. Back in the day, the west village was an enclave of a certain lifestyle of people that were known then as ‘bohemians’. And her friends were all these artsy, gifted, intelligent intellectuals like James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry. And then when I got into Raisin [A Raisin in the Sun] I got to meet Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis, Jr., Brock Peters…so that’s how I got started in the business. That’s why I’m kind of spoiled.
JFP: I know…you started off with the greats!
GT: Yea…it’s real hard to impress me.
JFP: What would you mother think of your body of work?
GT: I think she would be very pleased! She passed before I got out of high school, and I had made the promise to continue and stay on course. I graduated with honors and a lot of people that I have worked with over the years knew her and of that because they were around when I was a kid. I look at a lot of them as guardians…Lou Gossett for instance, my big brother. Secretly, I think Lou had a crush on my mother. [laughter] I asked her, and she said, “Oh, he’s too young”. I tease Lou about that to this day. He’s known me since I was a kid and he’s responsible for me getting my first agent. I think she would be very pleased that she set me on a path that has turned out well.
JFP: Yes, especially since you wanted to be an aviation engineer in high school.
GT: You read…you know my stuff! [laughter]
JFP: I love the fact that one of your teachers reminded you that math classes would be needed if you were planning to be an engineer.
GT: Yes…Mr. Wilson [laughter]
JFP: In Women of the Movement, you play the role of Mose Wright, Emmett’s great-uncle. Were you aware of Mr. Wright’s story before you took the role?
GT: No, not in depth at all. I knew what most people probably knew about the story, that Emmett was taken from a family member’s house.
JFP: How did you prepare for filming a role that is filled with emotions and deep anguish?
GT: It was a difficult role to prepare for. The more I got into it the more difficult it became. There were so many things that stirred many different emotions…the main one being… when you do somebody that is non-fictional, you want to do them justice. So, you feel that responsibility and that comes with its own weight. There was a myriad of resources available and get all this research that allows you to get a sense of who this man was, his posture, his cadence, and all the things that we as actors look for in developing a character. Of course, what was on the page was monumental, in the writing, the story was solid. I wanted to make sure that the family members who are still alive came away saying that we did the story justice. And I was rewarded by Mr. Wheeler of the Wheeler family, saying, “Glenn, you got our uncle, you got him down”. And when they told me that, I was like…yeah!
JFP: I see so many similarities between you and Mr. Wright. You both love the land, and you have a camp for kids, exposing them to the beauty of the land and ranching just as he wanted to expose Emmett.
GT: Yes, you are absolutely correct! That was spot on. He even says stuff that I say to the kids. And Valerie, my kids…I would bring them to help with the harvest just like Wright who brought his nephews down to help harvest the cotton crop. I am peach farmer, so I did the exact same thing. With the camp, the whole thing is to get the kids out of the city, get them on the ranch, out in the fresh air, and have a place where they can run around and just be kids. I was 100% right there with Mr. Wright in my understanding of what kind of man he was and the connection to the land. Being a farmer or rancher, you become kindred to the land. So, for him to be betrayed for his love of that and to have his sanctuary invaded by these outside hateful forces, these forces of ignorance, that had to be devasting. I was able to tap into quite a bit of who this man was because of our kindred spirits and connection to the land.
JFP: You have previously spoken of the connection between the 100th birthday of Mamie Till-Mobley and the verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery case. I believe you said that verdict was justice for Emmett Till.
GT: Isn’t that something? Yes, it’s almost biblical in its scope. I mean who could write that…60 years later, on the 100th birthday of a lady who brought to the attention of the world what it meant to have a love so fierce for your son, that she sought justice for him with every ounce of her being and was denied that justice. But some 60 years later, she would open the door for Ms. Jones, Arbery’s mother to get justice for her son (Ahmaud) on Mamie’s birthday. What a birthday present!
Women of the Movement, airs Thursday, ABC, 8PM/7c