As Black History Month opens this year, people are still talking about how the film “The Birth of a Nation,” created by Nate Parker, actor, screenwriter and director, set a new sales record at the Sundance Film Festival. The $17.5 million distribution deal from Fox Searchlight came after a bidding war among several companies, according to various news reports.
The film, with a name that recalls the infamous 1915 silent film depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic, is about the rebellion Nat Turner, an enslaved, literate Virginia preacher, led against slavery in August 1831.
Inspired by his “visions” from God, Turner recruited dozens of fellow slaves and some free people in Southampton County, Va., to band together, sweep through the countryside and go house to house, killing almost every white person they encountered, an estimated 55 to 65 people over several days. It was reported to be the highest number of deaths for any uprising against slavery in the South. The rebellion was soon suppressed, but Turner managed to hide out for a couple of months before being captured, tried and hanged.
The state of Virginia eventually executed 56 people for their part in the rebellion, and white mobs retaliated, killing up to 200 blacks in the area, innocent or not. The rebellion struck such fear across the South that new and harsher laws were enacted to discourage similar uprisings by further restricting the education, assembly and movement of African-Americans.
As we begin Black History Month, the interest in Nat Turner’s rebellion could be a catalyst for reading and studying other rebellions against enslavement and related topics. Historically, very little has been taught about the insurrections in schools, and many people are unaware of the history.
Diversebooks.net has some offerings on this topic that can help fill in the blanks, as well as many others on black history. They include:
Calling Out Liberty: The Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights, by Jack Shuler, $45, (List Price: $50), University of Mississippi Press, September 2011, ISBN: 9781604732733, pp. 224.
This is a study of one of the earliest organized slave rebellions in colonial America when 20 enslaved people broke into a firearms storehouse near the Stono River south of Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 9, 1739, and armed themselves. They killed nearly two dozen whites and joined forces with or liberated other blacks and marched toward Florida, where the Spanish had promised freedom to those escaping British slavery. Along the way, the escapees were apprehended and executed. That rebellion resulted in harsh laws to prevent the enslaved Africans from communicating or gathering. The author uses the rebellion as part of a larger discussion about human rights in colonial America and beyond.
Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia, by Douglas B. Chambers, $21.25, (List Price $25), University of Mississippi Press, April 2009, ISBN: 9781604732467, pp. 240.
When Ambrose Madison, grandfather of the Founding Father and future president James Madison, died in 1732 after a lingering illness at his plantation estate, Montpelier, his servants were accused of using traditional African medicinals to poison him.
This was a not uncommon occurrence during slavery. His death came only a few months after his arrival on the plantation, where enslaved African Igbos had been clearing land and planting crops under white overseers for five years.
The book explores the supposed murder and its effects on relations between the owners and the enslaved labor. The text gives a detailed history of the African descendents at Montpelier-over five generations from the 1720s and beyond. Montpelier, a 2,650-acre estate in Orange County, Va., was the lifelong home of James Madison. The DuPont family later owned it. It is now the property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open to visitors.
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