THE BIRTH OF A NATION
Taking Back A Hero
Nat Turner has long been one of the most captivating, mysterious and perhaps
misunderstood historical figures in the ongoing making of an equal America. His
unflinching resistance to the institution of slavery is often cited as integral
to the buildup of the Civil War as an act that alarmed and hardened the hearts
of Southern slave owners yet raised imperative questions about the morality and
sustainability of the so-called "peculiar institution" that stole away the
freedom, dignity and destinies of millions.
To Nate Parker, Nat was not so far removed from an African American version of
BRAVEHEART's William Wallace, who roused and united the Medieval Scots against
their oppressors at a time when no one thought it was possible.
Despite growing up in Virginia near where the Turner insurrection occurred, Nate
Parker did not once hear the name Nat Turner in school. "I heard it in whispers
and from family members," he recalls. "As if they were conjuring the very spirit
of rebellion. But it wasn't until I was in college, taking African-American
Studies that I really learned about him. When I did, I thought 'how is it
possible that I didn't know about this?' Yet it happened right in my back yard."
That denial of this essential history lit a fire in Parker. He needed to know
more. And the more he tried to trace Turner's past, the more he was drawn to a
figure who was not at all the savage fanatic portrayed in popular books and
legends. Instead, Parker discovered the historical Nat Turner was a
spiritually-fueled man of astute intelligence who viewed slavery as a symbol of
Satan on earth - and came to believe the only way the world could be set right
was to "cut off the head of the serpent."
"This is someone who tried to make a difference in spite of the impossible odds
of his environment. I had always longed for that kind of hero, and he'd been
withheld from us," Parker says. He saw in Turner "a measured, self-determined
man of faith, whose courage and belief allowed him to sacrifice himself for his
family and the future."
Parker also began to realize that just as in life Turner had never owned his
identity, this repeated itself after his death. No one knows Turner's true
surname or where his desecrated body is buried. In the last 200 years, Turner's
image had been used to signify many things. He'd been vilified as an
aberrational extremist, re-imagined as a lusty metaphor for a "slave mindset"
and exalted as a political revolutionary. Yet the man's real life and source of
his courage seemed lost in all that.
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