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Michigan man finds 70-year-old love letter that brought his mother to Lansing

Kenny Turner
Posted at 9:51 AM, Sep 16, 2021

LANSING, Michigan — Kenny Turner from Lansing recently found a letter, a 70-year-old love letter, mailed with intent.

"Dearest Darling, I received your sweet letter today and was more than thrilled to hear from you," he read from it, sitting on the steps of what was once Lansing's downtown train station. "I'm doing fine and hope you all are likewise."

Kenny Turner

The letter is wrapped in the amination to shield it from any unwanted exposure. Turner pointed to the upper right-hand corner.

"He was living at the time at 910 William St. in Lansing, and this was April 11, 1951," he said. "Yeah, you can see it. My dad had excellent penmanship."

In cursive, the letter is written by Turner's father, William Turner, which they don't teach in schools anymore.

Love Letters from Lansing
Love Letters from Lansing

"I want you now. I didn't want to leave you. Those two nights and days with you taught me more than the whole three years I spent courting you. Had I known married life would be that sweet, you would have been my wife before even that," he wrote.

Turner claims his dad was not the romantic type, but the letter shows a softer side his children didn't always see.

Following the sweet words are detailed instructions.

"Its name is The Georgian. Catch it. It leaves about 10 minutes after The Hummingbird gets there. It will bring you to Chicago, and then you catch the Grand Trunk Western, get a Red Cap to carry your bags, and tell them which train you want to catch. That train will bring you to Lansing."

Love Letters from Lansing
Love Letters from Lansing

It's in this letter that William Turner gave his wife, Vellmerie Turner, the step-by-step instructions she needed to leave her small hometown in Alabama for the first time.

She was leaving to head North and meet William in Lansing.

"I just couldn't believe it," said Turner. "I never knew that letter existed. My mom never said anything about it, and I really wish I had a chance to sit down with them to discuss that whole migration."

The means the Great Migration. Turner's family letter is remarkable for many reasons, but it's historic because it represents a trip, a risk many Black families took in the mid-1900s.

Love Letters from Lansing
Love Letters from Lansing

"That was something that happened all over the United States in the big cities, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, as part of the Great Migration, which occurred from about 1913 till about 1970, and that was the influx of Southern African Americans coming to the North for good jobs and actually to escape Jim Crow," said Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.

"We got so many families here," said Turner. "The Culpeppers, Byers, Looneys, Wills, and Davis. I mean, all those families moved up here."

There were just over 3,200 Black residents of Lansing in 1950, according to the U.S. Census. By 1970, it was more than 12,000.

Instructions for how to get to Lansing
Instructions for how to get to Lansing

The carefully penned instructions on the love letter are a testament to the journey and fight of thousands.

As Kenny Turner walks on the same Michigan Avenue train tracks, Vellmerie Turner arrived on 70 years ago, and he murmured, "I can feel your presence."

The Turner family letter will be blown up and used as part of a display about the Great Migration at The Knapp's Center in downtown Lansing starting on Sept. 24.

Sarah Grimmer at WSYM first reported this story.