THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER, WILLIAM STYRON,VINTAGE PRESS, NEW YORK, 2004
FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH
I came of political age during the civil rights struggle here in America in the early 1960's. Part and parcel with that awakening struggle came an increased interest in the roots of the black struggle, especially in slavery times. Such intellectuals as Herbert Apteker, the Genoveses, the Foners, Harold Cruise, James Baldwin, John Hope Franklin and others, black and white, were very interested in exploring or discovering a black resistance to the conditions of slavery not apparent on any then general reading of the black experience in America. This is the place where the recently deceased William Styron and his novelistic interpretation of one aspect of that struggle- Nat Turner's Virginia slave rebellion enters the fray.
No Styron is not politically correct in his appreciation of Turner or his followers. Nor are latter day Southern whites and their sympathizers who have recoiled in horror at what expansion of Turner's rebellion might have meant for the `peculiar institution'. But being politically correct, etc. now or historically is beside the point. Slavery was brutal. Slavery brutalized whole generations of black people for a very long time. If one expected nature's noblemen and women to come out of such a process, one would certainly be very sadly mistaken. That the white beneficiaries of this system were brutalized is a given. Human progress has come about through fits and starts, not a seamless curve onward and upward. Nevertheless all our sympathies are with Nat and his fellow rebels.
Moreover, here are some things to think about if you are not worried about your political correctness status. Outside of John Brown at Harper's Ferry Turner's rebellion represented the highest achievement of resistance to the white slaveholders in the early 19th century. Although the fight was not pretty on either side every progressive today should stand in historical solidarity with that fight. Then one will understand not only that oppression oppresses but also that the military conditions for a successful rebellion for isolated blacks in pre- Civil War American were slim. The later incorporation of 200,000 black soldiers and sailors among the Northern forces in the Civil War are a very, very profound argument that once off the plantation blacks were as capable of bravery, courage and honor as any other American. As difficult as it is, if you do not have access to the original chronicles of the Turner uprising, read this book to get a flavor of how hard the struggle for the abolition of slavery in this country was going to be.