The ACLU of Alabama is saddened to announce the passing of its former executive director, Eva “Olivia” Turner, who passed away unexpectantly in April 2023. She was 68 years old.
A Montgomery, Alabama native, Turner served as the Affiliate’s Executive Director for twenty-five years — from the fall of 1987 through 2012. Before her work at the ACLU, Turner worked on a host of public interest issues in Alabama, including reproductive freedom, voting rights, jail conditions, and the rights of textile workers suffering from brown lung disease.
Former ACLU of Alabama Board President Christine Freeman, currently the executive director of the Middle District of Alabama Federal Defender Program and Turner’s long-time friend, called her a social justice warrior.
“[Turner] saw her job as enforcing the rights that should exist and do exist,” said Freeman. “She was fierce, and she made changes in Alabama.”
Turner’s career as a “social justice warrior” began at a protest at the Alabama State Capitol following a lethal police shooting of a man in a wheelchair in the early 1980s. One of her fellow protestors at the Capitol that day was Simon Bovinett, the founder and former president of Montgomery AIDS Outreach (now known as Medical Advocacy and Outreach).
Upon learning Turner was taking the ACLU job, Bovinett, who also attended Montgomery’s Sidney Lanier High School with Turner, recalls remembering she was perfect for it.
“She had a strong commitment to equal justice,” said Bovinett. “Her background and energy, her enthusiasm, and her commitment to the cause made her a perfect fit for the job."
Under Turner’s direction, the ACLU was engaged in several high-profile cases.
In R.C. V. Hornsby, the State of Alabama changed the way the Department of Human Resources approached foster care. DHR’s new approach shifted its focus from solely removing children from their homes to prioritizing family reunification and more appropriate mental health services for children with special needs.
Another case, Harper v. Hunt, challenged the state’s method of funding public schools. In 1997, the Alabama Supreme Court held the state was not providing “equitable and adequate educational opportunities” for all students. This decision led to a revised funding formula still in place today.
Under Turner's leadership, the ACLU of Alabama also led efforts to oppose Judge Roy Moore’s placement of the Ten Commandments in his Etowah County circuit court courtroom and later the Alabama Judicial Building, fought against legislatively mandatory school prayer, and advocated for better treatment and care of Alabamians living with HIV.
“[Turner] saw right and wrong, and she didn't equivocate," added Freeman. "She was very aware of the difficult lives people had in Alabama, no matter how hard they worked—especially poor people, people of color, and others marginalized in this state and country."
After leaving the ACLU, Turner continued her fight for fairness and equity as a community program coordinator for the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center until her retirement in 2019. After retirement, Turner was an active dog transport volunteer transporting animals for several canine rescue programs.
On Saturday, June 24, at The Sanctuary in Montgomery, 432 S. Goldthwaite Street, Turner’s friends and colleagues are gathering for a memorial service at 2:00 p.m. All who knew her are invited and encouraged to attend and share memories.