Saturday, October 02, 2010

Nat Turner: Prophet of Doom

Hearing the voice of God - as Nat Turner claimed he did - is all well and good, if that's what you're into; even heeding your own inner voice can have positive results, as untold generations of artists well know. But arming people and going on a killing spree because someone says God told him to do it is an utter folly, and will never end well...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBeing preternaturally gifted (literate, for instance, when most American blacks weren't) was never going to win Nat Turner - born this day in 1800 - any friends, especially among whites. Yet he was described by contemporary sources as holding certain whites in a kind of thrall, and by all accounts he was a gifted preacher as well; he was even known by the sobriquet 'The Prophet'.

Still, the 50 or so whites killed during the two-day rebellion he lead could never have been worth the 200 blacks killed in its aftermath. Nor could the loss of his own life have served any real purpose, since he must have known that news of Nat Turner's Rebellion would ultimately be suppressed by whites for the sake of public order. Following his abortive rebellion his home state of Virginia, which had been on the verge of abandoning slavery as unworkable, actually saw an increase in the practice.

It's popular to consider Nat Turner a hero for the part he played in the struggle against tyranny, and had he escaped (as he did when he was 21, only to later return) he could have become an abolitionist like Frederick Douglass, another learned and charismatic man. Nat Turner could have done so much more than he did, been so much more than he was, and ended his life a far greater hero than the murdering thug he became had he simply obeyed the Sixth Commandment from that book he was so fond of reading.
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