tv Historical Portrayals of Nat Turner CSPAN February 25, 2017 6:47pm-8:01pm EST
to join the conversation, like at c-spanbook history. >> historianistory tv, kenneth greenberg discusses historical portrayals of net , ther -- nat turner african-american leader of a slave rebellion in virginia. he describes the competing of turner's rebellion and looks at methods used by slaves to resist their masters. he also talks about the consequences of the rebellion or other slaves in the south. this event was part of the university of mary washington's great lives lecture series. tonight's comes to subject, greenberg is the editor -- two notebooks and was part of the team that film and produced the pbs
"nat turner, a troublesome property." it is my honor to introduce to you kenneth greenberg. [applause] mr. greenberg: well, it's a great, great pleasure to be here. when i left boston this morning it was snowing. my plane had to be deiced, but i arrived in paradise. this is a lovely place. i have never been to the campus before, and you have absolutely gorgeous campus. the town is wonderful as well. my hosts have been extremely gracious, and my subject matter is about one of the most difficult subject in american history.
there is controversy every step of the way and battles every step of the way in terms of all the people who have tried to -- natbout net turner turner. first, i'm going to sort of tell you about my own history with turner andut nat turner. about nat it covers a fair amount of territory. then i want to just zero in on a few areas in more detail. let me begin by describing a couple things. , when i was in graduate school, i first encountered nat turner because we had assigned in class a document called "the confessions of nat turner." i'm curious, in this group, how many of you have read that, the
original confessions, 1831? how many of you have read the styron novel? that's interesting. i will be talking about that as well. i will describe the rebellion a little later on in the talk, but basically, after turner was captured -- he eluded capture for about two months, and after he was captured, he was briefly in jail and tried very, very quickly, and then, during that time of the trial, a few days, a whitemed thomas gray, a southerner who was a lawyer -- not turner's lawyer, but had actually been a lawyer or several of the other defendants -- interviewed him in his jail cell. a couple of weeks after his execution, gray published a document called "the confessions
f nat turner." it's an amazing document. we have nothing like it in all of american history because people who were rebels against slavery did not get interviewed. they did not write things. there's no record where you can hear their voices directly. the thing about the 1831 confessions is you cannot hear turner's voice directly, either. it's thomas gray who put it together from the interviews, so this makes it one of the great public just puzzling documents for historians. it is the only thing we have like it which has somewhere in it turner's voice. on the other hand, it is still through thomas gray, and that is the puzzle. that is why students have thought about this and try to figure out how to sort out the two voices. that really piqued my interest when i was in graduate school,
and i said one day i would like to get back to it. as you just heard, i am the editor of that original "confessions of nat turner." i put it together with other documents of the period to give people a sense of the time. i try to puzzle out how you can tell what is and is not turner's voice. it's very difficult. by the way, if you want to describe a central issue that everybody grapples with, it's the question of voice. how can you reconstruct the voice of someone who was so varied, so deeply obliterated by the culture that ended up hanging? in its pretty extraordinary. when i was also in graduate school, i read the william
styron novel. for those of you who do not know, he wrote a novel. he was interested in writing a novel. he is from virginia. when he was in high school, he actually passed a little in virginia near where the rebellion took place, and he remembers being on the bus, seeing a roadside sign which made a reference to the rebellion, and ultimately, it stuck in the back of his head. in the 1960's, he decided to come back to the topic and to write a novel. novel. very interesting it's called "the confessions of net turner." what he said what he thought he is going to do was so little known about turner, what he said was i will follow the historical record in my novel, and then where the record does not speak
to an issue, i'm going to use my imagination to fill in the banks -- blanks. in an odd way, again, it replicates the thomas gray situation where you have the voice of a white writer trying to funnel nat turner, and it includes turner's voice somewhere in there. imagines many things which he thought were plausible about slavery. that novel was greeted by the general public and by critics like few american novels ever got needed. the reviews -- go back and read the reviews if you want. writer after writer, reviewer after reviewer, famous american this as the about great american novel finally written. this was in 1967.
styron won the pulitzer prize for writing that novel. almost from the beginning, there were black critics and some as well whos understood the novel as deeply flawed and ultimately racist at its core, and they began to write each other. john henry clarke was the leader of the group of black writers who were in touch with each , and ultimately, they wrote a collection of essays -- 10 essays, basically -- and it was called william styron's nat turner, 10 black writers respond. they looked at the novel and point of the ways that it got history wrong, but also, it's deep racism. what kind of things do they point to? turner making
reference to his grandmother, they are simply left out of this novel. also, there is a scene where turner's mother is raped -- again, this is styron's invention, but she seems to pe by a white overseer. and then, turner is full of .atred of blacks he sort of adopted some of the ideas he was getting from the white community and makes references that are nasty references to african-americans and slaves, but i think the heart of the thing which black critics pointed to was the fact after a turner lusts young and beautiful white teenager, a woman named margaret whitehead. we know that turner personally killed only one person in the rebellion -- margaret whitehead.
that is all we know. what styron did was he imagined was margaret whitehead, what was their relationship, why was she the one person that nat turner killed? relationship,is but it was full of lust. he had rape fantasies. ultimately, he killed her with a sword and a nds rail, which is described in the confessions briefly that way. the black critics asked what that is all about. -- and a fence rail. the idea that black men are always lusting after white women white fantasy. white men raping black women was always what was going on. the heart of what lynching is all about is the idea that black
men are threatening white women. we have these terrible lynchings all over the south of black men accused of raping white women, most of which was simply nonexistent whatsoever, but the terrible public lynchings -- as you know, we have lots of photographs that get taken. postcards made of to lynchs next african-americans, and they would send these postcards to their friends. it was an amazing moment in the culture all centered around lack men lusting after white women. and suddenly you have nat turner , who, by the way, the historical record has no reference to this whatsoever. it is completely coming from william styron's imagination, and the black critics ask what it's all about, taking a black hero and turning him into something we know is a white fantasy yahoo!
that was an object of a tremendous amount of criticism. and styron made another choice, too. he decided to tell his story in turner.e of nat the original "confessions" has two voices it. there's thomas r gray and then there is also nat turner's voice. -- this is a was really interesting side note to the story, but james baldwin, one of the great african american thinkers of the 1960's became a friend of william styron's. starting the new baldwin was a struggling writer at the time. needed a place to stay. styron had a place in western massachusetts, the town of rocks very, and it was ace mall, rural house. next to it was a converted barn, which was a studio. he invited waldman to live
there, and baldwin would do his writing in the studio, and styron would do his writing in the house, and at night, they would come together and get drunk together. time, andnd old styron would invite his neighbors. many of them were white liberals from the community, and baldwin inif have ever seen baldwin action, he is an extraordinary man, and his anger was fiery, and he was brilliant and he frightened styron's friends, but nonetheless, he liked styron and styron like him, so as styron was getting under way with writing the confessions of net turner, it was baldwin who said, "why don't you be bold? i write in the voice of white people all the time. you should be bold and right in the voice of this black man." at one point, styron thought of it as complementary to turner.
in the eyes of the black critics, they said he had appropriated turner's voice and taken the voice of a great lack leader and turned it not into his voice but into your voice, and that became a tremendous object of criticism. this became one of the great racial controversies of its time. in some ways among intellectuals but even extending beyond that, this was like the o.j. simpson case of a later time. ofgely broken down in terms whites and blacks, but not totally. nonetheless, they looked at this, and styron's novel was under attack. i got to know star related ron, and i can tell you that this controversy -- he always felt misunderstood, never felt the blackd, and critics, who i also got to know -- ii did my film
interviewed them in the year 2000. they were referring back to events that happened in 1967. when you listen to every one of them, it's as if it happened the day before. the anger was as intense as it was in 1967, the clash. by the way, i have to tell you, in my own opinion, styron was a perfectly nice guy. he never understood, however, the race issue he was dealing with. this was the time in the late 1960's when black power was coming into the fourth -- the fo turner was one of the black heroes that african-americans who were the most militant would point to as a great leader. many of them said he had emasculated a great and. there was a lot of anger, and the anger persisted. that ever healed -- that never
heal. styron is now dead a few years, but it never healed for styron for the critics either. reading that, reading the controversy, getting immersed in it, and later on, would i did well -- when i did a film about turner, which i will come to in a little bit, i got to meet the people involved and got to know them quite well. a lot of great intellectuals involved in this movement. baldwin himself, by the way, was one of the 10ome black writers. it was going to be 12 black writers at one point, and baldwin said he did not want to do it. there's only one blurb on the back of the novel, and it's from james baldwin. he saw it as a great racial
novel. but i know he was friendly with all the black critics, and he understood the nature of their criticism, and he simply did not publicly come out to criticize his friend. so that is a complicated story. across natme i came bookr was when i wrote the called honor and slavery, a book with a very long subtitle that you heard, and it was about southern honor. that is a whole other story about southern gentleman thought of themselves as having honor. they thought of african-americans, enslaved people as not having honor, basically. this a lot of things that go along with what southern honor meant, but just a small piece of that -- i was interested in the way dead bodies were treated. when someone died who was considered to be a man of honor, the body is self was honored in
various ways. argument, i larger looked at two examples of the way dead bodies were treated. one was john brown. actually, john brown and nat turner, the two people i picked. here is something amazing that i discovered at that point. there was a kind of -- john lead awho attended to slave rebellion and led the raid on harpers ferry, was deeply southerners.e i've got to tell you, if you of whitewords southerners as they discuss brown, it's very common underneath the surface, a grudging kind of admiration. every once in a while, they say things like lunatic, maniac, and
so forth, but here is a guy who was not afraid to die. there were descriptions that he was holding one dying child in in theand has a gun other fighting to the in and. or there were descriptions of his execution. a white southerner who wanted to he was anexecution -- elderly gentleman by that time, but he got his friends who were cadets in the military to admit him, and he wore a uniform and watch the could execution. you read his description of john brown's death, and he admired the man. he said the guy went bravely to his death, did not twitch as he was dying. that's the language you would use for someone who was a man of honor. i'm not saying they thought man of honor. they hated him, but they had kind words and imagery mixed in.
now, what happened to nat turner's body? if you read the newspaper accounts of the time, and they are very sparse, but one of them says nat turner sold his body in exchange for ginger cakes to the doctors for dissection. he did it for ginger cakes. when i first read that, i said, "what? what is that all about?" ideal in a world where you cannot trust anything you read. here's a guy -- after all, nat turner did not own his body when he was alive. why would someone pay him in ginger cakes to have possession of his body which he did not own after he died? this is some white writer -- the only explanation is some white writer wants to insult nat
turner. ats the same writer is hardly anyone came to the execution, it was not an important event. i can tell you, this was the most important event since the civil war. they had to call the militia out to control the mob. so that cannot possibly be the case, and it's also the same guy who says hardly anyone was at his execution. this is all speculation, it's true, but that's my world. welcome. but he was certainly dissected. a white southerner who wrote about turner -- he was a professional historian. you see sort of the beginnings of professional history going on, but he was also from how i -- powered and county. he had a lot of knowledge, but
it was a deeply racist description of turner that he gave, but in 1900, here is what he wrote. was deliveredody to the doctor, who skinned it and made grease of the flesh. his skeleton was for many years in possession of dr. mastenbrook but has since been misplaced. that's another thing that should give you pause. misplacing nat plus skeleton? what is that about? i don't know what that's about. you can take that one. but it does not seem likely to me. there were rumors in the county after 1900, even before, that his skin was turned into a money purse. when i did my film about the rebellion, i spent a lot of time in southampton county, and this is a place where i saw no body parts.
aboutody was talking someone else has these body parts and so forth. there was even one person who said somebody down the street has a lampshade made of nat turner's skin. whenever i tried to find this, it disappeared somehow. also, this was after world war ii. lampshades were connected to -- to jewswo jews. and their skin. this is as gruesome as against that is the epicenter of the evil of race relations in america. i also met a man there who was a wonderful man, the keeper of -- i describe him of the keeper of the african-american folk memory
of the rebellion and a scholar of the rebellion as well even aough not fully trained as historian. his name was james mcgee. when you buy my book about turner, he did the painting on the cover of that book. it's a wonderful painting, you will see. anyway, he told me that he has a memory from 1949. he was a school kid at that that was thesaid 300th anniversary, i think, of the founding of southampton county, and they had a big celebration. this is the height of the era of segregation. segregatedwas a event so that black kids and other african-americans watched the celebration from outside the gates of the local high school. they could look in to see what was going on, and he had a memory of this, and i checked everything was
corroborated by written sources. they had a whole pageant of the history of the county with no mention of slavery and no mention of nat turner. it's about other achievements. indians and so forth, the land growing and people becoming more prosperous, but he said at that pageant, there was a table outside of artifacts, and on one of them, there was an artifact that said it was a money purse made from the skin of nat turner . again, it's all murky. was it really? but it's a little disturbing -- a lot to serving -- to have somebody saying that this is the money purse, but he was sure it was the money purse and given the fact that we hear mention of this from 1900 and then from the time of the rebellion itself, there's body parts going around. we know there's a history of this. skull -- how many
of you read about turner's skull ? there are multiple sightings of his head. whatever happens to his body is not so clear, the rest of his body, but something purporting turnsnat turner's skull up in places. sometimes in virginia, in wooster, ohio, there is a college where on display at the museum, they have something which is labeled the skull of .at turner elkhart, indiana, had one as well as norfolk, virginia. then it turns out -- we are talking about the distant past like this is some thing, which has kind of faded from the scene . it doesn't seem to have. the skull that was founded in elkhart, indiana, was actually given to the mayor of gary, indiana, mayor richard gordon
hatcher, who founded something called the national civil rights hall of fame, and they gave him the skull to have in the hall of fame. i remember reading this when it happened. how do you display a human skull in a museum? what are people thinking? it's quite unbelievable. it turns out they have had that skull since then, and only recently was it given to people who believe they are the family of turner who have given it to the smithsonian. right now, as we speak, as far as i know, the smithsonian is analyzing the dna of that family and the skull to try to match the two, and the intention is to body art of nat turner's proper funeral. as i sort of stumbled across this, i realized no matter where i look, this is -- you want to talk about the epicenter of nasty race relations in america, it's the net turner story that
produces it over and over and over again. i have way more than i can possibly tell you here. i'm going to keep my eye on the time. to do the film about that turner -- this is interesting -- i happened to connect with one of the great african-american directors, a guy named charles burnett. if you have never seen a charles burnett film, you should see it. he's not nearly as famous as someone like spike lee because he never had a megahit, but it , he firsts movies came to fame with a film about a black family living in los angeles. he did his film in the direct of "shaft" and movies about cool african-americans involved in various criminal activities. this was a film about a real
african based on a real african family trying to live their life in difficult circumstances. he did a film with danny glover about african-american culture. if you want to see one film on slavery that is a great film, it's by disney, if you can isieve it, about a girl who taught to read by another african-american who comes to the plantation. he directed halle berry in a .ilm called "the wedding" on tv he and another guy called frank christopher, a documentary filmmaker -- they came to me -- they try to talk to everybody who knew about net turner in the turner in about nat the country, we hit it off and i agreed to join them. i have never met a group of filmmakers or anybody who were as ethical as they were, as gentle, as kind as they were,
in interracial group, so we had amazing conversations. we went out, we went across the country, including styron as well, and talked to anybody who had anything to say about nat turner including the people about the styron novel. we had some amazing footage. in the end, we decided we were going to do a film. we got money from the national endowment of the humanities. one of their largest grants. i remember in an early meeting, charles for that said let's tell .he story of nat turner he's a simple, clear guy. let's get it right. let's tell the story. i looked at him and said what story? that story has been so buried and destroyed you would have to make it up and if we did, we would sound like everyone else who tried to tell the story. down that road lies madness.
people all over the country, and in the end, what we decided to do was not tell the story of net turner, we would tell the stories of the story. we would try to let people know what people have said about net turner. we were going to tell the siren story for example. things going to depict the way the storytellers told. then we set an audience does not want to just here talking heads. the last thing you want to see in a documentary film, especially since it's pre-photography, so there's no video footage or photographs or anything to show -- what are that wouldto show
hold people's interest that the we have many people angry at william styron's novel. there has never been a film about that novel. right? 's no footage, how many of you have seen the recent "worth of a nation -- ? irth of a nation" film not many of you. it did not do so well. the films that come years later, they are just made up like everything else is made up about nat turner. so we decided we would show people angry over something like afterrner lusting
margaret whitehead. we hired actors and re-created the scene. several scenes from the novel that were the most irritating, so when we have voices talking about it, you can see what in an odde reading way. it was a dangerous thing to do. our goal was not to interpret turner, but to tell it as exactly as we could the people who were telling stories about nat turner, to tell their stories. very dangerous. we were filming in virginia, but we actually re-create the scene of turner killing margaret whitehead. styron in the novel does things like described the dress whitehead is wearing or the weapon turner was using as well. .e said let's just get it right this isn't us. we do not believe a word of this. it did not happen this way. thought.he way styron
then they did something which in retrospect i have to tell you is one of the stupidest things i have ever done. we said if we got it right, let's invite styron down. the reason why that was stupid is what if he said it's not the way he imagined it. we ran out of money. you just cannot reject it. it was a crazy thing to do. he was ill at the time, and we got him a trailer with air-conditioning and brought him down. he was very patient. we knew him quite well by then. when it came time for the killing of margaret whitehead, he came out, watched the scene , "it'sned to me and said exactly as i imagined it." whew. we dodged that one. we had five different actors
play nat turner. we were not going to show him as he really was. thomas gray's nat turner was different from the nat turner which was the executed nat turner, which came from the newspaper articles. the audience gets a sense that he's a very elusive person to try to re-create. then, most recently -- for the "birth of a nation" film -- for those of you who have not seen it, let me tell you about it. although it is named for the same film which is considered to have given her a to hollywood, the first american feature film, the first films shown at the white house. woodrow wilson's thought -- woodrow wilson saw it and said it was history written with lightning. he loved it.
that has nothing to do with nat turner. that's about the civil war reconstruction. -- ialso one of the great -- racist" in quotes american films. at its heart, lack men lusting after white women, attempting to and the heroesn, of the film are the ku klux klan. as a result of that film, the klan, which had pretty much died out by 1915, was revived. wearing masks, not ashamed about it, marching on washington that year, so when nate parker decides to call his nation" thatf a evokes that. the 1915 film was about the
birth of a white nation, but the 2016 film was about the birth of a black nation. when i knew this was coming up, i decided i to go and see this opening moment, and i went to the sundance film festival. it's one of the hardest things i have ever done in my life. getting a ticket at the sundance film festival for this particular film. about a year ago, most -- no were nominated for academy awards. no african-american actors. there was a large outcry. how could this possibly be when so many great african-american actors were around. when he came out with this film, many people said this was the moment for the next year, which is the year now, basically, that we have the chance for an african-american to win. nate parker was the director, the producer, the writer, and the lead actor in that film.
so i went and the reaction in the audience at sundance was electric. multiple standing ovations. it was amazing. i had never seen a reaction like that to any film. not only that, it won the top prize at sundance, which is an extremely difficult thing to happen, and then it sold for the most money ever paid for an independent film from sundance, basically. .ox searchlight films bought it i cannot linger over this. i'm actually writing something longer because i have a lot to say about it, and it's really complex. here is something i came to film --it doing my own you cannot apply the standards of written history to history on film. it is just a different kind of thing. if i'm a writer and i want to describe -- a historian and a
want to describe a house, i know some features of the house, but i don't know what the door looks like. you'll have to talk about the turnerut if you have nat sitting in a jail cell, what does that look like exactly -- you do not have to talk about the door. cannot have d blank space. writers tot you want do, especially for african-american history. toni morrison, who wrote the great novel, "beloved" -- that is about a real historical incident about margaret garner. she kills her children in the film or a child, and toni morrison writes a novel about it. toni morrison had to make it all up as we get inside margaret
garner's mind and world. the record, which often destroys the lives of african americans in the past, that simply gets lost. if you do not have imaginative writers who are good and sympathetic to re-create that world, then that world is lost. films tome to expect deviate from what i would do as a historian. i don't want them to duplicate what i do. what styron was trying to do -- i think he did it poorly -- is what you want writers to do, to go where historians cannot go. 's film,ee nate parker this dialogue that's created. you have to write all the dialogue, right? for every historical film, that the case, right? even if it was written down, you
would not want to duplicate it in the film. it would still be pretty boring. you have to invent characters and so forth, and that is what the nate parker film is about. i have a more complicated criticism of the film because of the things it invents and doesn't, but i don't have time to do that now. all this -- now think of what i have just told you. what a complicated world of multiple voices, racial controversy, hatred. it is the epicenter of american race relations in a way. withi became fascinated turner, and i have been working on turner in different ways. i only have maybe 20 minutes or think one mistake people make, historians
especially, when they try to describe that turner is they begin by talking about nat turner. that's because there's another story, which we do not have good records of. if you look at "the confessions ," at one point, thomas gray, the white lawyer, asks turner to tell him about his master. he says, "my master was a good master." if you read that and see the moment of bloodshed that follows and one of his hedge people kills his master with an ax, you wonder what that is about -- one ople kills his master with an ax. one of the things you need to do is to talk about slavery. we do not have the specific evidence in turner's case, but slavery is an evil institution and anybody who was a slave
experience is that evil institution, so before you begin turner, let'snat talk about some things. let me these are details which will resonate. physical punishment like whipping and so forth. slavery is the most extreme form .f unfree labor you can be sold and inherited. you are a piece of property. there are many good people in the world. , some of them are masters. whites write about it, blacks write about it. problem of
slavery, you don't get to pick your master. suppose you were lucky enough to have had a master who gave you decent treatment, which could happen. you could be sold to a sadist. you can be sold to a murderer. you are vulnerable. even when you are not at immediate risk you are vulnerable. masters died. estates are sold. another feature, no institution of marriage in slavery. we talk about slaved people having wives. that is not the legal institution of marriage. that is customary. happen,rs want that to they could as easily break people apart.
here is another feature of slavery. there is no crime of rape. rape is not a crime when white men are raping black women. black mene reversal, lusting after white women from is built into the institution of slavery. it is not written about openly but think about living in a world where it is not a crime. children of black women become the property of their masters, if a master rapes a black woman, not only is there no danger of prison, but you increase your property as a result. rape was central to the institution of slavery. you readturner, when the confessions, where the grievances, you can assume rape was there.
another thing, literacy. this is an institution it tries to prevent people who were enslaved from learning to read. there is literature around. northerners are trying to send literature down. even in southern writings, if you were enslaved person and could read, you could read things that would undermine the institution of slavery. you could read the bible of your own. there is plenty to support slavery, plenty to attack it as well. ofre are amazing stories learning to read. religion masters want the slaves to learn a certain religion. the ability to testify in court is another one. you can see how it enslaved people were led to testify in
court it would undermine the institution of slavery. the slave might accuse the master of something. you committed some atrocity and so forth. therefore the words of enslaved people, this is part of the people,ing of enslaved the words are not considered appropriate because they can't be believed in a courtroom. sometimes this leads to crazy results. if a white man is murdered by another white man in front of 100 people, and those 100 people are slaves, there are no witnesses to that murder. think about that. slaves have no property. they can't give gifts. sometimes they pretend they can give gifts but in actuality whatever the slave has his own by the master. i'm sure you have read stories
are heard stories about an enslaved person who buys their freedom. you have all heard that. that does happen occasionally. but what is that? a slavedr permitting person to -- enslaved person to buy their freedom. they have no property. perhaps you have saved enough to canyour freedom, the master say that is not your money. it is mine. that, givent say your freedom as a gift. , the questionnded is how does slavery end. how do you get freedom in the end? there were all these images. they have them in boston. they are all over the country of abraham lincoln freeing the slaves. breaking the chains of slavery. the idea thats freedom is given as a gift by whites to black people.
this recapitulates that old idea. in slavery.way the only way you could get your this,eedom, think about forget trying to buy your own freedom. you could run away or you could be a rebel like net turner was. the state threat to slavery. ok. let me talk about the ways in which you can resist slavery. you will notice i have not said much about net turner. you could keep me here for three days and i will go on and on. let's think about this for a second. if you were an enslaved person, how would you resist slavery? how could you? rebellion is the most extreme form.
this is what net turner engaged in. -- net turner engaged in. how common was in the united states? the old south had a myth that the enslaved people were happy with slavery. you have seen that old myths about the old south. -- net in gone with the wind the myth in gone with the wind. that is comforting with a slave master. you want to believe in happiness. the fact that there is a slave rebellion. turner rises up from everyone wonders -- whoa, we were not expecting that, maybe i have a nat turner on my farm. rebellions carry a lot of weight.
there were 55 people killed in the rebellion. the estimates of the enslaved people involved has gone as high as 70. the latest number, 40 people actively involved in the rebellion. it lasts one day. this is small potatoes by world standards. rebellionyou have a which fights napoleons army and creates the first african-americans -- african state, african origin stay in the western hemisphere. in russia where you have served him, you have surf rebellions. you have sef rebellions. erf rebellions.
those are big rebellions. this is among the biggest, the turner rebellion. usetimes earlier historians this idea about rebellions to this fits into the idea there wasn't that much unrest. they are misreading a lot of things. if you wanted to resist slavery think of the things you could do. engaging in a rebellion was suicide. everybody who did it was killed. famous rebellions, they didn't even rebel. they were conspiracies, and they killed lots of pillion. in only the people involved the rebellion, but slaughter in the black community by whites
after the rebellion as well. we have places where rebellions were more successful near swamps. nat turner may have been headed toward the dismal swamp. rebellions, if they are not huge in number and not happening every day, it is the same as suicide. it's hard to resist. there were 3000 militia troops on the way to southampton county when the rebellion breaks out. it is put down by the local militia. there were 3000 coming. there were 40 rebels. what could you do? you could slow down the pace of work. whites who looked at it said the slave population, they are lazy. that is what they saw.
not the case at all. they are seeing resistance and they don't know it is resistance. you could break tools. , they are so clumsy they don't know things. you could lie in different ways. visit aay at night to different plantation. you could use fire. southern cities burn down all the time. who burn them down? sometimes it is in slaved people fighting the way they can. you could put class in your master's oatmeal. lass in your master's oatmeal. you could learn to read. it is against the law to learn how to read. learning how to read becomes a form of resistance. you could think of marriage,
loyalty to a spouses a form of resistance. music. african-americans can carve out institutions in slavery. they are forms of resistance. being loyal to friends. , eveng away to the north into the woods for a while. the institution of slavery is full of resistance every step of the way. rebellions are just one small form of it. they go a long way. so, i want to leave time for comments. it is a: 27. in my running out of time? -- am i running out of time? please. [inaudible]
>> good you tell us how old was net turner? >> 31. >> [inaudible] hour's worth of comments here. our only source into nat turner's mind, the confessions of nat turner. you have to be careful with that. we have some statements from the trial records. they are sparse and don't tell you much about nat turner personally. there are a lot of things in those confessions which could not possibly come from tom is great. he talks about his childhood.
his parents told him he was a special child. they saw marks on his body which they said comes from an african tradition. it marked him as a special person. whites and blacks talked about his intelligence. you are notaid destined to be a slave. hisad memories which families told him of things that occurred before he was born. they solve this as sign of something or mac os -- they all saw this as a sign of something miraculous. are two ways described in the confessions. he learned to read easily. he knew the apple that when he knew the alphabet. as if it was a miraculous thing.
neither one of those appears in the birth of a nation film. nate parker could have grabbed one of these. he invented another. he read the bible. imagine if you live near a place called jerusalem and you read the bible through that lens. then the bible is full of all kinds of things. he has visions. he has religious visions. a vision that says, a voice says to him seek the kingdom of god and all things shall be added on to year. he sees blood on the corn. he sees the body of christ laid out across the heavens. he gets these visions, apocalyptic visions. the end of the world is near. he has a moment where he says christ has laid down the yoke he
has assumed for the sins of man. he believes he is the one responsible for picking it up. at the bottom line, the sense of being special. reading the bible and interpreting the bible, and taking action against slavery. all of that is sitting there. he has all that. all this stuff is added to that stuff. , andpeople look at that nut say -- he said he was a . my answer to that is every religion seems crazy from the outside. imagine how someone would look at it. every religion is crazy. nat turner's is not different
than any other. he reads about people who have visions. that is his world. i would not dismiss it as the work of a not unless you want to dismiss moses as a net. -- a nut. indiscernible question] >> you are asking a deeper question in a way which is what did it matter exactly? as soon as the rebellion took place, african-american voices -- you don't see that. you do get hence of it. when the civil war ended in african-americans are holding a religious meeting in virginia
1866, thecivil war, delegation from southampton county, turner's county, comes in the door. they are cheered. they all know about the rebellion and what that meant. in the north, black abolitionists in boston, african-americans began abolitionism in boston just a few blocks from my school. they point in that turner and many come to admire turner. you see turner being spoken about in the literature leading up to the civil war. as a result of the rebellion there is repression in the south. that is the immediate result. the killing of blacks in the community, the colonization society makes it possible. -- pay foro play
free blacks to be sent back to africa. many find it so uncomfortable to live there they go back to africa. it has those consequences as well. that turner can stand there and remains until the present moment as a heroic symbol of resistance so no one african-americans who were enslaved were docile in the face of slavery. >> in what year does this take place? this rebellion? what year? >> 1831. one other consequence of the rebellion was, this is the most
amazing thing of all, the virginia legislature was so rebellion, thee , including women , they wrote their legislators in richmond and said we have to get rid of slavery. we can't live knowing there are urners on ourt farms. ultimately turn it down but that would have been amazing. as a result of turner's rebellion long after he is debbie white southerners get rid of slavery because he creates such fear. --did not happen, but there but that was seriously debated. nat turner
organize? how did he conducted? what you can tell about the actual rebellion. >> nat turner were himself was , heired by these divisions both thought that god had told him and he himself realized that he couldn't talk about it with anybody. preacher,d of a lay he didn't talk to anybody about it until he thought the time was right. there's a long history of this. other rebellions were betrayed. there are many people who will betray their rebellion. that is what happened to gabriel's rebellion.
he calls together six people who they trust and they meet in the woods. he tells them about the plans for the rebellion. the plan of the rebellion is to move from farm to farm. that includes children. that includes infants. largely women and children get killed as they go from farm to farm. the idea is to strike terror in the community. it has that affect. some people come across these forms of dead people and say have to go back and take care of my family. the rebellion last 24 hours. the local mission puts down the rebellion. 3000 are on the way.
that is the rebellion. >> from what i gathered about thatfilm, it seems to me some may refute that as you cooperating stories that others had told. the fall stories that others had told. >> it is a good comments. i will repeat it. stories,l these false aren't we just spreading false stories? in the context of the film we tell the audience over and over again, when you see five stories they cannot all be true. we do what we can to undermine the validity of those stories.
we have the black critics criticizing. these are american voices coming in clashing with each other. i hope it doesn't have the effect of someone saying it is a false -- spreading false stories. i should say another thing to be -- my mind is still open about this issue. a second.is for imagine if i showed you a screen of a horse on the and it has the label on it, dog. think about it for a second. youd you call what i showed a mislabeled horse or a miss picture dog? miss-pictured dog.
you could do either one. the power of an image is much more powerful than the power of the word. you are right. when you seek him with the wind, you can read a hundred criticisms and that image of gone with the wind stays with you. there is a danger if you show false images. you have to read history. you have to listen carefully to the film. otherwise with her away reason. you point out a good danger. >> could you advise us if the visible church had a role -- episcopal church had a role in turner life, being accepted into the church, supporting slavery?
>> the roles of the churches are quite interesting. it is the baptist and the methodists that are anti-slavery . the methodists take a position against slavery. not the up this couple's as far as i know. those are the -- not the this from the time of the revolution, that is a strong anti-slavery straight to it. there is no doubt in my mind that was connected to net turner -- nat turner somehow. >> i wanted to ask, it could be , rhetorical question [inaudible] what kinds of reactions have you heard of audience members
hearing about nat turner. ed in whites.t they're coming with the rage of the past. has there been any shift in the viewing of some characters such as nat turner from having listened to your presentations where you attempt to give context? is anything more than just anger? is there any shifting to understand turner as more than person who murdered. that is the stereotypical feeling i get as a black person. this is interesting. i teach my students every year. the problem with talk, we are used to many good words passing
and many bad words as well. culture is resistant to change. it doesn't change so easily. that is what universities are about, trying to affect change that way. it doesn't happen so easily. especially in a world where conversation somehow is becoming increasingly distrusted. is do peopleion listen to me and say now i understand, i've got it? some people clearly do react that way. not huge numbers. most people when you go back will live the rest of your lives. i'm not a preacher who is going to convert you to something. that is typically not the case with people who give speeches. i will continue to do this. i have more to say about this topic.
race relations in america are as deteriorated now as they were at any time in my life. , whata sad thing to see seem to be moving along nicely. not that things haven't changed. and one of the -- turner is one a person you can look at and say what are people saying about nat turner at any point in time and you can take the temperature of race relations. think dr. greenberg for his special presentation. [applause] we be signing books here in the back. have scottay, we i've been coming in -- scott i've been coming in to talk.
thank you. >> you are watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. like us on facebook at c-span history. history, hampton city college proces professor teaches a class on the colonial chesapeake area in the british empire. he describes how the rise of the tobacco economy consolidated the power of wealthy virginia planters. his class is about 50 minutes. prof. coombs: all right. good day gentlemen. up to thisked about