28 Black People Who Make White People Uncomfortable (Nat Turner)
Most of you reading this know at least a bit about Nat Turner. Yeah the guy who led that slave uprising somewhere that was really violent and kind of worked but they ended up all getting caught, right? Sure most black folks who learned anything past MLK and Malcolm X in Black History know at least his name, but most people don’t understand who he truly was, or his true impact on society (and the ways the his actions still impact us).
For starters, Turner was one of the most intelligent and learned men of his time, and not just for a “slave.” He learned to read and write before his teens, not only in an era when he could be punished for doing so, but also during a time when a large percentage of his master’s could do nothing more than add to 10 and spell their own names. He ran away once and came back after having a vision that he would be needed and was punished several times for escaping and/or defying masters (Note that he was only “punished” and not sentenced to death. This distinction will be important later. Turner preached to the slaves and to some whites and was known as “The Prophet” among circles of both races.
After seeing what he believed were astronomical signs in the forms of eclipses, Turner began to plan the revolt and inform his close circle of advisors. This is where popular history fails us. The uprising wasn’t a chance revolt in the heat of the moment and every part of it, even the outcome, was meticulously planned. He took months to plan it properly and even postponed it a month to make sure it was as thought-out as possible. On the day he sprang the revolt, he purposefully had his followers kill all in their path, which resulted in alarm that aided in the rebels gaining a foothold. His use of tactics and terror made it so that it took a brigade that outnumbered his group 2-to-1 and a detachment of artillery to defeat them.All in all their group killed over 50 people.
It could be argued that Nat Turner’s actions may have changed the course of American history more than any other black man. Before his revolt it was legal throughout the South for slaves to read and write, and free blacks could live generally without being harassed in Southern States. The attitude of whites to slaves and Blacks was less of fear than superiority and paternalism. Everything changed with the rebellion. Whites began to feel an intense fear of uprising from blacks, and especially began to fear Black men. This is where the “Black Mandingo” myth was most fortified and reinforced. Blacks were forbidden to learn to read and write and most free blacks moved to the North. Intense violence against slaves was sparked and the “vigilante” undercurrents of violence and intimidation against slaves laid the groundwork for the founding of the KKK. Literature and propaganda were proliferated about the dangers of black men having too much power and knowledge. Turner’s actions alone helped harden the divide between North and South in terms of slavery and also were a major contributor to the unease in general society has to this day about powerful intelligent black men. The widespread fear about Black men raping white women was prevalent before, but was ramped up heavily after the revolt and went from what even slaveholders saw as a fringe fear of a few fanatics to the dominant ideology in the region.
So pretty much when you get on the elevator (in a corporate building with a suit and tie on and your Burberry scarf) and a white woman clutches her purse, you know historically where the roots lie. Almost everything you know regarding Black-White relations and stereotypes has a link with this man. He made an entire country so uncomfortable that they in turn changed their perceptions towards and actions against an entire race.