From his big break at age 12 as Travis Younger in the original Broadway production of the Lorraine Hansberry play “A Raisin In The Sun,” to Preach in the 1970s cult classic “Cooley High,” Glynn Turman has been an important part of Chicago’s film canon. 

Now, in the midst of a career renaissance, Turman finds himself a part of another quintessential Chicago depiction as Emmett Till’s great uncle in the new ABC-TV limited-time series “Women of the Movement,” airing on Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. Central time. The season finale of the six-episode miniseries airs Wednesday, Jan. 20.

The TRiiBE got the opportunity to sit down with the legend himself to discuss his lifelong relationship with Chicago and its people.

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity].

The TRiiBE: We’ve been seeing your face everywhere lately. How was it working on the Ivy Park denim campaign back in August 2021? That was your granddaughter in the campaign photos with you, right?

Turman: Oh, it was great. It was great. She was surprised. She used to do a little modeling when she was younger. I said, ‘You ready to come out of retirement for Beyonce?’ She said, ‘yes!’ She had a great time and we had fun together.

The TRiiBE: You were born and raised in New York City. How’d you become so heavily immersed into cowboy culture to the point of having your own ranch?

Turman: It’s not so much the cowboy culture that got me. I always had a love for horses, so even in New York, I used to go to Central Park and shovel horse manure in the stables. And the man would let me ride the horses around in the stable there. There’s a large mounted police culture in New York, so when I was a kid, I used to always follow them and pet their horses when they stopped while they were on patrol. Also I’m old enough [to remember when] the wagons that sold goods were all pulled by horses in the street. So I used to steal the apples off the back end of the fruit wagon and run around and feed it to the man’s horse when I was five or six years old. 

I came up in an era where everybody wanted to be a cowboy. If you didn’t want to be a sports figure, you wanted to be a cowboy. You had Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy and all those kinds of guys. So that was always a part of my culture just like you guys with the superheroes in comic books now. When I got to be a man, I was able to make the dream come true.

In a virtual interview with TRiiBE reporter Matt Harvey on Jan. 14, 2022, legendary actor Glynn Turman reminisces about his history of bringing Black Chicago narratives to life on screen.

The TRiiBE: When someone stops you on the street and says ‘hey, you’re so and so from such and such.’ What’s the role they’re referring to?

Turman: I can tell what they’re gonna know me from based on how old they are. Like you might [know me] from [television shows] “Queen Sugar” or “Fargo,” but a little older group will know me from “Cooley High.”

Or if they stop me and they talk about “A Different World,” I know that they’re either in college now and they’re watching it or they’re in their 40s and they were watching it back then when it first aired. So I can kind of tell who my followers are by what shows they watched.

The TRiiBE: You have a track record of performing in particularly Black films and television shows. “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Cooley High,” “A Different World,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” season 4 of “Fargo,” and “Women of the Movement” are all Black stories through and through. Has it been an intentional thing for you, keeping yourself grounded in Black cinema and television?

Turman: No, because I’ve got [the movies] “Gremlins” [released in 1984] and “Bumblebee” [released in 2018]  under my belt as well as a myriad of TV series. Every TV series I’ve been in over the last 50 years wasn’t particularly Black. It’s just that the Black stories that I’ve been in, like “Women of the Movement” right now, there have been a lot of stories that have been very poignant and I’ve been blessed and honored to [participate] when they need that kind of story told. If there’s a character that has a strong point of view, I’ve been lucky enough to have been called and asked to do those parts. 

My career started like that with the movie “A Raisin in the Sun,” which was a very poignant film back in the time. The great Lorraine Hansberry was covering so many topical subjects in “A Raisin in the Sun,” from redlining to abortions to the Black diaspora. And the play itself had the first Black director [Lloyd Richards], the first Black female playwright [Hansberry] and a Black star [Sidney Poitier] on Broadway.

So I came out the box swinging in the social realm, you know? And so I kind of fell into that genre especially in the 1960s. [Amiri] Baraka and Ron Milner and all the different playwrights I came to know and work with, we were all making statements at that time. That was my contribution to the revolution through my art. So that was a conscious decision to be a part of saying something meaningful.

WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT - ABC's "Women of the Movement" stars Glynn Turman as Mose Wright, Tonya Pinkins as Alma Carthan, Cedric Joe as Emmett Till, Adrienne Warren as Mamie Till-Mobley, and Ray Fisher as Gene Mobley.. (ABC/Matthew Sayles)

The TRiiBE: I know the idea of “A Different World” reboot has been toyed with before, but when it comes to “Cooley High,” you’ve been very protective of that original work. Why is it so untouchable to you?

Turman: Well, here’s one major thing. Just check this out. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs was one of the stars of the movie as Cochise, right? And myself with Preach, star of the movie. Jackie Taylor, who has got the great Black Ensemble Theater [in Chicago], star of the movie. But there was another star of the movie that nobody talks about: the music. Motown was a star of the movie. 

Now you tell me in this day and age, what music artists are you gonna put together that has the power that Motown had? You can’t afford to get Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye or Mary Wells. You put that together and that was the star of the movie. You need that star. You need that component. Who you gonna get right now?

The TRiiBE: You listed some heavy hitters right there. I’m lost for words. You could’ve stopped at Smokey and I would have been out of it.

Turman: So already you’re going in on one leg, limping in.

The TRiiBE: I was rewatching a couple of times and it does pull you into those transition scenes where you’re running across the city. You feel like you’re in the car chase. You feel like you’re kicking it at Martha’s and whatnot.

Turman: Yeah, because they [the actors] were the best and you can’t afford to get seven to 10 of the best out there doing it now. The filmmaker can’t afford it.

The TRiiBE: Do you have any fun stories of exploring Chicago with the cast?

Turman: It was just a good time filming it [and] a good time hanging out. I was in Chicago filming Fargo with Chris Rock in 2020. What I love about when I go to Chicago is, somebody will inevitably come up to me in the street and say ‘Preach! Hey man, I was in the scene at Martha’s man. I did that scene when we got chased out of Martha’s!’ So I’ve got to stop, I gotta talk to them because it’s like family, you know?

The TRiiBE: That’s funny! My mother actually grew up next door to Pooter [a character in “Cooley High” played by Corin Rogers].

Turman: Oh really? See, you can’t replace that.

The TRiiBE: From Travis Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun” to Preach in “Cooley High” and now Emmett Till’s great uncle Mose Wright in “Women of the Movement,” you’ve had a major role in the way that Black Chicago is depicted in film and television. Quite frankly, your career means a lot to the city. How has your work helped shape the narrative of Black Chicago?

Turman: I think that what I might represent at this stage is the fact that it’s not over till it’s over. I’m still here, doing what I love. I’m still telling stories that are even more inclusive than they were in the day when we were trying to tell our own stories because a lot of those stories were written by whites or others. But now your generation has a wonderful thing going for it and that you’re telling your own stories [with] your writers and your producers and your showrunners are of color — all of the things that we didn’t actually have. 

These are the things that we had to fight for. These were major things. You guys might take it for granted now, but to get a Black makeup person in the makeup room was unheard of, things that you don’t even think about now as a problem. There were a lot of things that we had to fight for behind the scenes and I was a part of that. I’m from an acting school that had a different technique of acting. We made it personal, you know. So when I’m approaching parts, it’s very personal. That’s not a technique that’s really taught now. A lot of people are not ready to dive into those kinds of places.

I call it the scab effect. A lot of people are not willing to pick at the scabs of their soul, of their journey, and where my generation comes from with the technique is, it ain’t going to heal because I gotta pick at it again.

The TRiiBE: “Cooley High” was shot in the 1970s when the Near North Side of Chicago was much Blacker than it is today. Over time the area has been gentrified and the projects have been replaced by a mix of modernized public housing and high-priced condos. When you returned to the area to film “Fargo” recently, how did it feel to witness that transition over time?

Turman: It’s like that everywhere, isn’t it? Gentrification is really spread across the country. Harlem is different. South Central is different now. And, I guess, that’s what you call progress. I don’t know. You tell me.

The TRiiBE: It definitely doesn’t feel like progress when you look around this place and it doesn’t look like the place that people called home for decades.

Turman: I know exactly what you’re saying, but that’s the way it goes. You roll with it. You keep on stepping. You take the good with the bad and get out of it what you can.

The TRiiBE: It’s been a long road since your first Broadway break [“A Raisin in the Sun”] in the 1960s to this recent “Glynnaissance,” as it’s been coined. How have you managed the peaks and valleys of being a Black artist through such a long, decorated career?

Turman: Well, not without strife, but with that strife there’s commitment. It’s easy to commit to something if the road is smooth all the time. Do you still commit when the road is not so smooth? And what do you do with that bumpy road? Where does that fit in your scheme of things? 

When I made the commitment, I chose to stick to it and find a place for the strife. My mother had a saying. She used to say, ‘bite off more than you can chew, and chew it.’ So that’s been one of my mottos. And I’ve choked some too, you know, but you bite off more than you can chew and you chew it, damn it, and that’s life. That’s kept me going.

Photo of a scene from the play A Raisin in the Sun. From left-Ruby Dee (Ruth Younger), Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil), Glynn Turman (Travis Younger), Sidney Poitier (Walter Younger) and John Fielder (Karl Lindner). All shown except Turman reprised their roles in the 1961 film version.

The TRiiBE: You’ve had this decorated career as an actor but you’ve journeyed into more than just acting, like going into production and other aspects of filmmaking. What has it been like learning in those different parts of filmmaking?

Turman: I’m still learning. That’s one of the things I like about this craft that I have chosen as a lifestyle, is that I can always get better. I can always learn. I’m learning from the new young actors and actresses coming on, and the producers, and the young directors coming on. I’m learning from them and I love that.

It’s the same thing with horses. I love working with horses because I can always learn something even though I’ve been riding and been in rodeo for over 40 years. 

I’m still learning how to become a better writer, and I’m still learning how to become a better actor, so it’s got its challenges. What’s good about getting older is you learn when to shut up and listen. That’s a sign of maturity that only comes with age. That can’t be taught, and I’m glad that I’m at the age where I just know when to shut the hell up and listen because the older you get, the more you realize how little you know.

The TRiiBE: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the late Sidney Poitier, who was so integral in shaping Black cinema. You knew him for most of your life. What is one of your favorite moments that you’ve shared with him?

Turman: He was very instrumental in my points of view as a young man, both as a human being as well as an artist. His graciousness with the public was one of the main things that I took away. I remember him signing autographs for everybody and being kind to everybody. So there’s a kindness of attitude and intention that I was able to, as a kid, watch and say, ‘why is he doing that? It’s cold as hell out here, why is he standing there signing all these people’s autographs?’ Something that I realized later is that it was a part of being gracious to the people who looked up to you as not only a source of entertainment, but a source of pride. He represented that.So that’s one of the major takeaways.

I remember one thing. I was with my good friend Art Evans [“Die Hard 2”, “A  Soldier’s Story” ] and there was a park nearby here in Los Angeles called Poinsettia Park, and all of the actors that you ever want to meet would be there, especially in the 1970s. You’d see Shaft [actor Richard Roundtree] at Poinsettia Park playing basketball. You’d see “The Mack”  [whose real name is Max Julien]. You’d see [NFL legend] Jim Brown and you’d see me and you’d see Sidney playing tennis. So Art and I decided that we were gonna challenge Sidney to a tennis match. 

Now you have to understand Sidney was very dignified and he said, ‘No, I will not play you, and I will not play you, Art Evans. I will play both of you at the same time and I will whip your asses.’ And he went on to talk so much smack while whipping our asses. You wouldn’t think he would talk so much crap, you know what I mean? He was talking the same smack that we talked on the courts.

But that was Sidney there and that was the Sidney that most people didn’t get a chance to see. It was funny.

WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT - "Manhunt" - A historic trial begins, and on the eve of her testimony, Mamie must face the three people responsible for her son's murder, while also facing some ugly truths in the Jim Crow South. (TV-MA, LV) "Women of the Movement" airs THURSDAY, JAN. 13 (8:00-10:01 p.m. EST), on ABC. (ABC/James Van Evers) GLYNN TURMAN

The TRiiBE: What are some of the lasting relationships that you’ve built with the people here in Chicago?

Turman: I’ve got family in Chicago. My brother — I just lost my brother a few months ago — he was in Chicago. My daddy lived in Chicago, so I’ve always had family in Chicago. Getting to know my father over the years, you know, I didn’t know him as a young man, but from right around the time of “Cooley High” on, we became close. So it was fun coming to Chicago and hanging out with him at Buddy Guy’s [a live music and bar in the South Loop]. That’s a spot I go to. I played a little blues harp at Buddy Guy’s. When somebody called me up, I went up with my father and played. He took me to some of his spots where he used to hang out, but they were a little different.

The TRiiBE: Some real OG spots?

Turman: Yeah, the real OG spots. That’s right. I would go over there and hang out. His friends would embrace me and welcome me in and that was always a good thing. We got to know each other in Chicago. I’ll always have a fondness for Chicago for that reason.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE.