The "Turks" of Sumter County, South Carolina

South Carolina Colony Of ‘Turks’

CHARLESTON, S. C., Sept. 10— UP—A federal judge must go back to revolutionary War history Wednesday to settle a school segregation dispute over a mysterious colony of "Turks."

The "Turks," a colony of some 300 persons, have petitioned the federal court of the eastern district of South Carolina for admittance to the Hillcrest School for white children in Sumter county.

The colony, which up to now has had its own schools and churches, has been called "as much a mystery to their neighbors as the mound builders," by one historian and no one seems certain of its background.

Subject to Segregation Laws?

Judge Ashton H. Williams will hear, arguments as to whether the present colony of "Turks", are white or Negro, and whether they should be admitted to the Hillcrest school.

He had previously granted a temporary injunction preventing school officials from refusing to register "Turks" at Hillcrest, but stayed the injunction when 150 white parents kept their children away from the school, on opening day last week.

White residents of the county said the Turks were part Negro descent and therefore subject to South Carolina’s segregation laws which bar Negroes from white schools.

Members of the colony said they were of Turkish descent and historians refer to a mysterious Ben Ali or Benenhaly as founder of the colony.

‘Mysterious Ben Ali’

Thomas M. Sumter wrote in "Statesburg And his People," that his grandfather Revolutionary War Gen. Thomas Sumter enlisted a "Joseph Benenhaly" as his scout after finding him in the wilderness.

Benenhaly was also referred to’ as "the mysterious Ben Ali" and said to be of "Arab" descent. Following the end of the Revolutionary War the general gave Benenhaly a piece of land near his farm in Sumter county.

Sumter wrote, "Joseph Benenhaly and the man Scott (whom the general also gave land) were either pirates or had escaped from pirates - the writer has forgotten which - but they were ‘white’ men. "They got to be called ‘Turks’ by the country people," Sumter added.

This newspaper article is in the possession of Sue New, who graciously submitted a copy.  The year is unknown, but probably in the 1950s.

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