I am here loaded with chains and willing to suffer the fate that awaits me. – Nate Turner
It is the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner. With rumors of insurrection in the air, a cleric convinces Samuel that Nate should sermonize to other slaves, thereby quelling any notions of an uprising. As Nate witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man, he realizes that he can no longer stand by and preach.
As recorded in The Confessions of Nat Turner, he believed he was called by God to fight and kill his oppressors. “I saw God’s hands stretched from east to west… I discovered drops of blood on the corn, as though it were dew from heaven. It was plain to me that the Saviour was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgment was at hand.”
On Aug. 21, 1831, Turner’s quest for justice and freedom led to one of the bloodiest and most effective in American history. It ignited a culture of fear in Virginia that eventually spread to the rest of the South and has expedited the coming of the Civil War. However, in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion, many Southern states, including North Carolina, tightened restrictions on African Americans. Over the course of two days, dozens of whites were killed as Turner’s band of insurrectionists, which eventually numbered over fifty, moved systematically from plantation to plantation in Southampton County. Most of the rebels were executed along with countless other African Americans who were suspected, often without cause, of participating in the conspiracy. Nat Turner, though, eluded capture for over two months. A Rebellion to Remember: The Legacy of Nat Turner
The movie is intense; my husband and I saw it together. There were scenes that I had to remind myself to breathe, and I saw my husband wiping away tears. It’s hard not to think about present-day oppression.
Black folks may not be in chains, but we are not by any means free.
The uprising of #BlackLivesMatter, although centuries later, is formed out of the continued execution of Black Americans. Many today who protest do so tirelessly and without fear, just as Nate Turner did centuries ago. They believe that it is a calling to stand against those who will oppress others for their skin color or other bias. The message is timely, but I fear it isn’t easy to have now as the list of names turned into hashtags continues to grow.
The Birth of a Nation calls for an uprising and continues to fan the flames of those who are tired of America’s unrepentant misconduct. Black folks may not be in chains, but we are not by any means free.