Hatchers Skull Letter

Hatchers Skull Letter


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



“Mayor Hatcher was stunned when Indiana NAACP President Franklin Breckenridge offered to donate Turner’s skull (for the Civil Rights Hall of Fame). “I said, ‘Frank, no one’s going to believe it’s Turner’s skull,’” Hatcher recalls. But Breckenridge had authentication, which Hatcher says he has verified with an Indiana University historian.”



Outrage of the Year!!!

Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher

Plans to Display Nat Turner’s Skull

in His Hall of Fame, according to Donna Britt

Columnist Washington Post

Dear Mr. Lewis,

I read with interest your article on the remains of Nat Turner that were presented to the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame at a recent fundraiser.  I was born in Gary and continue to live there today. I was also in attendance the night the skull was presented. Like many of the people there, I was shocked when the skull was presented especially to find out that it has been in the possession of two families for all this time. Both of these families obviously had never considered that it was an affront to keep the remains. In fact, I must admit that I was so taken aback by the fact that the skull existed that until reading your article I never really gave thought to the alternative of having the remains buried. After reading your column, I did see things in a different light as have others I’ve talked with who also had not given thought to a burial.

I do have other concerns though. You said you based your article on a column written by Donna Britt (who’s a high school classmate of mine – I was also at the reunion she wrote about). You went on to say that you were going to research the issue further. I would submit to you that perhaps the best form of “research” would have been to contact Mayor Hatcher directly, prior to writing the article. He is listed in the Gary, IN phone book where he continues to live. This is not something I’ve heard . . .. I visit there frequently. (I would also suggest that Kelli, that claims to live in Gary, should also get a copy of the phone book and give him a call.) Normally, I wouldn’t even address someone as mixed up as she is but since she has posted this MISinformation on a web site that is read nationally I felt compelled to write the truth. The fact is that it was a very sad message when a city that is 90% Black elected a White mayor whose only claim to fame had been to return drug dealers and murderers to the streets of Gary in his role as a criminal attorney. The day he became mayor he inherited two casino boats that were obtained under the previous administration of Mayor Thomas Barnes, Gary’s second Black mayor. Because he chose not to run again, he never spent one dime of the casino money. All $200 million dollars has been spent under the King administration. ( yes, his name is really King and he thinks his role is that of a King and not a mayor)

I know that you are aware of the problems the inner cities face . . .  even Kelli realizes that the infrastructure was pulled out of Gary to make Merrillville. Gary is no different from other inner cities that have had jobs replaced with drugs and guns. The citizens of our community have many needs. Our schools and young people are in desperate need. Our unemployment is in double figures. Our property taxes are the highest in the state and increasing as we speak, causing many to lose their homes. I could go on and on about the many things we need but I’m sure you already know because Gary is not unique. But what has happened in Gary during the last seven years with the “King Mayor” and $200 million dollars of “off-budget” money? First of all not ONE meeting has ever occurred to ask the citizen’s of Gary what they need or would like to see happen in this city. King spent millions of dollars to bring the Miss USA pageant to Gary. Contrary to what Kelli says, because there were no restaurants they felt were worthy of the contestants, the money that was made on the pageant was made by surrounding cities… not Gary. The only local hotel used was owned by Trump who also owned the Miss USA pageant. So Gary spent millions to host a party to make Trump richer along with the surrounding communities. Next King builds a baseball stadium that starts out at 20 million dollars but quickly grows to more than 50 million. A stadium for a baseball team that is not even a “feeder” team for the pros. In fact we are 30 minutes from Chicago who has two professional teams and they can’t get people to come to the games. Even worst is the fact that since the stadium was not ready on time, the city spent over 2 million dollars to support the team while it played on the road. We even paid for health insurance for the players when so many of our citizens have no health benefits.

King’s campaign manager purchased a CBA basketball team and each year, among other things, the city has purchased 250 thousand dollars in season tickets…supposedly for youth… that have NO recreational facilities and who must stand in the street begging for money to support their sports teams. King has made sure that his friends have benefited GREATLY from the casino funds while the citizens that have given their all to Gary continue to struggle and suffer. The legislators fought to bring the casinos to improve the quality of life for all citizens… not just King’s cronies. But the needs of Gary’s citizens have gone unanswered. This is far from economic progress. Everyone has been so upset about the story Peter Jennings did on Gary. While I feel he could have done a much more objective visual story, the fact remains that he didn’t stage the things he showed. He was able to show them because they existed. He should have showed more of the city but he probably expected to see much more once he found out that we have received more that 200 million dollars in casino funds. One would expect to enter the city and immediately see a difference but it hasn’t happened. On the issue of the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame, money has been appropriated from the Federal, State, and County government and the Gary City Council approved $5 million dollars but King vetoed the ordinance. The council overrode the veto and he threatened to sue. Once he found out he could not win the suit he came back to his 5 rubber stamp council members and asked them to allow him to issue a stay on his lawsuit and give him a few thousand dollars to set up a committee to decide what is best for the museum. Those are the real segregationist tactics.

For the record, I have known Mayor Hatcher for nearly 40 years and I have always known him to be a person that has always put the needs of others ahead of his own. He has and continues to do all he can to advance those that have been oppressed by this society that continues to allow racism to dictate its every move. Unfortunately, he has never been forgiven by whites for having the “nerve” to become one of the country’s first Black mayors, causing them to “run for their lives”… afraid that if we achieved power we would treat them as they had treated us. That was their true fear, but it has never happened that way. By nature we just “ain’t” that way. I guess because we know first hand what it feels like. Even more unfortunate is the fact that there are also Blacks that bought into the hatred as well . . . the same Blacks that he fought so hard to help. But that has never caused him to give up and I applaud him for that. I believe that if you took the time to talk with him you would have a very different opinion than the one you wrote about. There are those of us that continue to speak up for oppressed people… I always have…and as long as I have breath, I always will. Judging from what I’ve read on your website you fall into that same category. We’re all in this struggle together… we only need to communicate.


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Responding to Dena’s Letter 


Dena, peace and blessings,

Thanks ever so much for your response on Turner’s remains. I appreciate your remarks  greatly. But I must tell you up front I have no great animus against Mayor Hatcher. I am of that generation that held him as a hero and considered him highly as the first black mayor of Gary and important in the black consciousness movement of that era. I have visited your city only once and that was for a national conference called by James Forman and old members of SNCC and other black activists. That was 1969/1970.  We wanted then to reorient the movement and to fill the void caused by the assassination of Dr. King in April 1968 and the ongoing destruction of the black student movement. Of course, our effort did not succeed — matters only declined further.

I have become familiar with the difficulties of Richard Hatcher only since the stench of his plans for Nathaniel Turner’s skull rose to high heaven. My sincere and primary interest is assuring the dignity and the proper respect for the memory and person of Nathaniel Turner, the prophet of Southampton. A century or more of writing and earnest scholarship have yet to sustain his holiness, his intellectual acumen, and his earnest revelatory experience. He has been reduced continually, as the poor and the powerless usually are, to a political and useful object of opportunists, that is, to satisfy their selfish and narrow ends.

I was astounded and enraged by the nonchalance and the language used by the columnist of the Washington Post in relating the story of Richard Hatcher and his plans for Turner’s remains. Here was a former black consciousness hero and a NAACP official discussing also with a nonchalance about placing Turner’s skull on exhibit for touristic ends. I did not believe the story. I thought it must have been some hoax, some awful cynical joke that was being made for the sake of readership — to sell papers. Worse, that they expected that some ghoulish delight or thrill could be extracted from placing Turner’s skull in a glass cage caused an uncontrollable rage. I could not stand idly by, especially since I have helped to build a web site and written papers for conferences in order to right the record on Turner — to sustain his dignity, defend his integrity, and promote and understanding of his righteousness and sacrifice.

I am not one who is eager to make pronouncements on this topic and the next. I do not make it a practice of writing letters to newspapers complaining about this or that political position. I would have much more preferred that the Washington Post writer would have expressed rage at what was happening in her native state or better yet that the people of Gary and those who attended the function to have raised their voices against Richard Hatcher profiteering off the remains of a holy man. It seemed to me that I was a lone voice in the wilderness and despite the dangers of going up against the best minds and high authority, I could not remain silent.

First, I tried to verify the story and I emailed a reporter at the Post-Tribune and he told me that he was afraid that the story of the skull was indeed true. He tried to get me interested in the particular gripes that the people of Gary and its suburbs have against the former mayor. But those were not my interests. I asked him did he know how I could get in contact with Hatcher and he gave me the number of the foundation. Every time I called I received a busy signal. I concluded that Hatcher had no interest in responding to my queries.

But if you have so easily contacted me, Mr. Hatcher could also have gotten me subsequently to the letter, which seems to have stirred the water in Gary. But I am uncertain whether a one on one discussion would have satisfied either him or me. For there is no defense for placing Turner’s remains on display. It seems rather clear that he has cynically used the remains of this very religious man for narrow and selfish ends. If the citizens of Gary, especially the black ones, are hell bent on giving him five million dollars to place this holy man on display that they too will be subject to the same criticism, and probably some national resentment from well meaning black people. 

For to make use of tax dollars in order to further humiliate this man, whose body was dismantled in 1831 — skin from flesh (for pouches and other items), flesh from bones (for salves to make mockery of his body and life), his skeleton kept as a curiosity purportedly by a Dr. Massenburg of Norfolk, VA — is to aggravate the longstanding grievances we black Virginians have toward those who profit off of black bodies. That for black people, 171 years later, to imitate the acts of those who initially denigrated his remains is outrageous and shows soundly how far we have fallen morally.

That is my story — my view, my perspective. I expect that the good people of Gary will do the right thing, the morally good thing — provide or encourage Richard Hatcher to do what he knows is the right thing to do, namely,  a decent and proper burial for Turner’s remains. If we cannot attend properly and respectfully and forthrightly in this matter, I am not confident that you would do better in larger affairs.

Of course, there is still the possibility that this entire matter is a hoax. A cynical play of the cards. I would like to know very much how the reported NAACP official acquired the skull and why only now has he made it public that it was in his possession. It seems that there should be some questions that the national NAACP official would want to put to him. Further I would like to know the means used to authenticate the skull. Of course, it could not be done by DNA. It could only have been done by having a history of ownership. That history should be made public and Richard Hatcher, in that he wants to educate us, should spearhead efforts for public disclosure of the owners of the skulls and their interest in its continual personal or corporate possession.

I hope that you will further raise your voice against the proposed use of Turner’s skull and the more hidden story here of the desire to own Turner’s remains. i am pleased that you too were disgusted by the proposed plan for the skull. I appreciate greatly your correspondence about having respect for Turner’s body. It has been presented well and argued sincerely. Many of those who come to ChickenBones: A Journal would be very interested in your argument and defense of Hatcher’s good character. I hope you don’t mind if I put your remarks before them. 

As ever and always, Rudy

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Jamie Walker’s Response to 

Hatcher’s  Planned Use of Turner’s Skull

Your response to Dena’s letter was impressive and very thorough and well-written. Thank you for sharing. It is also my hope that the remains of Nat Turner  have a proper burial. This is the best way to honor one of our historic Ancestors as opposed to “caging” his skull, as you have suggested, and putting it on display for profit and propaganda. Let us resurrect a national center for Nat Turner next to his gravesite, with pamphlets and books about his achievements, and let future generations come to pay their respects. This is the best way, to me, to honor such a man who taught us how to ‘resist’ and that freedom (in all sense of the word) is so important that one would be willing to risk their own life to ensure that future generations would be able to walk free and unmolested in this country not only because freedom is their birthright, but also their God-given destiny. Have you read Martin R. Delany’s novel “Blake” about the black insurrections? Outstanding… Peace and Light, Jamie Walker, Author101 Ways Black Women Can Learn to Love Themselves

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A Response to Jamie

Jamie, peace and blessings,

you too have written well on the subject of Turner. I’d like to make use of your remarks later if you don’t mind. For I do not believe that this matter of Turner’s remains will be quickly resolved. There will be a bit of obstinacy in this matter. Richard Hatcher will be single-minded in this enterprise.

It has been at least a couple decades since I have read Delany’s “novel.” I did so when I was in graduate school when I wrote about Delany’s rhetoric and how it mirrored the white racial rhetoric of his time. But you are right I probably should revisit it.

But to return to Turner. A week or so ago I wrote a letter to the Post-Tribune of Indiana. The letter you read is the second response I have received. That too was fairly long and discussed the problems people in Indiana are having with Mayor Hatcher and the charges of  alleged embezzlement of funds. 

Several days ago, Wednesday, I got a call  from a reporter in Indiana, from the Post-Tribune, and we talked over a half hour or so. It seemed that my letter to the paper had a great impact locally, so much so that this reporter will follow it up with an article that will formally address the situation about the skull. She said she will send me a copy. I will share it with you when I receive it.

Keep in mind as I said before my intent is not to undermine Richard Hatcher. I am not so naive that I am unaware that conservatives and some whites have found a toe hold in which to attack Hatcher’s character. But that I suppose is the nature of politics and that is the life he has chosen. I have little or no interest in Gary politics or Hatcher’s downfall, only in Turner, and what is right for his memory and his person.

It will be nevertheless be quite interesting how all of this unfolds. I hope as ever all goes well with you, Rudy

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Sharif’s Response to Dena

& Hatcher’s Plans for Nathaniel’s Remains

Rahim- The response to your article by the good citizen of Gary is very interesting. He would have Prophet Turner’s head be the centerpiece for the economic development of Gary. There is no feeling of compassion for the bones of an ancestor. The Prophet’s value is to generate so many dollars for a “museum.” Here, we have the issue laid out clearly–is the old Prophet’s head an “artifact” to be studied or is this the head of a human being-once loved by others, the head of one who sought to put an end to the brutal system of slavery. This concept of “artifact” is, of course, European in nature.

It derives from the philosophy of Locke who saw everything in nature as an object for human consumption and use. This outlook is also linked to the European argument against sentimentality–the emotional investment in things and people. These ideas culminated in the concept of “objectivity.” Is the head of the old Prophet as object to be studied without emotion? Or is it the head of a human being whose existence lends itself to understanding through the facility of the human heart. Maybe, we should ask Hatcher what kind of Museum he is constructing that would look at the old Prophet’s head as an object of study. Will the Museum bid on the remains of Garvey? If Lumumba’s head was discovered, would the museum feel free to bid on it. This idea of the humanity of a person is the key to attacking those who possess crass, materialist values. Would not Turner say of himself that he is a man with human connections, that we should mourn his loss as we would do any other human being, an ancestor? How can his soul know rest with its head laying under glass. Let us commit his bones to the earth so that his soul may know the peace of eternal rest. Sharif

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The Letter to the Editor of the Post-Tribune That First Questioned Richard Hatcher & His Political Use of Nathaniel Turner’s SkullPost-Tribune2002 December 13 (?)

Nat Turner’s skull should have burial Donna Britt of the Washington                Post wrote a column about the receipt of Nathaniel Turner’s                skull by former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher. It said, in part:

“Mayor Hatcher was stunned when Indiana NAACP President Franklin Breckenridge offered to donate Turner’s skull (for the Civil Rights Hall of Fame). “I said, ‘Frank, no one’s going to believe it’s Turner’s skull,’” Hatcher recalls. But Breckenridge had authentication, which Hatcher says he has verified with an Indiana University historian.”

I found the story incredible — a joke. I am trying now to get to the bottom of it. If true it is indeed a historical travesty. South Africa has just  recently received the remains of the so-called Hottentot Venus after a century-long display in France/England, so that Sara’s remains could receive a proper burial.

For a former black consciousness leader to plan the display of the remains of  a historical figure in order to raise money is more than just a travesty but quite outrageous. If Mr. Hatcher has indeed received and authenticated the skull, he should make haste to return it to Southampton County, Virginia, for the proper burial that Turner did not receive in 1831 because of racist  slaveholders and their sympathizers. I am sure he does not want to be counted among them — profiteers of black bodies.
Rudolph Lewis, Editor

ChickenBones: A Journal

Editor’s Note: The letter immediately above is the one to which Dena responded. Seemingly, it had a moral impact in Gary, Indiana.

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 Stuart Responds to 

Dena’s Defense of Richard Hatcher


Hey, Rudy

Hope all is well.

Interesting discussion on the web site regarding Nat Turner’s skull.  Frankly, it sounds to me like Dena has an issue with the politics of Gary, Ind. more so than that of Turner’s skull.  I’m glad your reply focused on the real subject at hand rather than feeding into her lambasting of Gary, Ind. and the former mayor.

I’d be darned interested in knowing how they got hold of the supposed skull.  You’re absolutely right; it should be public record.  I won’t go off on that tangent right now, but what I’d also like to know is what else (documents/historical information) do they have regarding Nat Turner.  Their having the skull is rather bizarre in that such information hasn’t been known before now.  Hmmm.  Makes one wonder.

I always hear about Nat Turner’s descendants living down in Southampton and Sussex, and a Shine Turner is/was supposed to be one.  Shine, whom I don’t know, apparently married one of the Fords from your area.  Are you familiar personally with any of Nat Turner’s descendants?  If so, what do they know about his remains?  How do they feel about this skull situation?  Any response from them that you know of?

Let me know if you’re going to be in Sussex during the holiday.  I’m going to spend about three days up there — the 24th – 27th.  If you’ll be around, I’ll pop down there to say hello and visit



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A Response to Stuart 


Stuart, peace and blessings,

It is my plan to visit down home after Xmas. I should be down there Thursday or Friday of this week. A member of the ChickenBones Society, Yvonne wants to see my hometown and meet Mama. She has read the 58 letters I published on the site and she was amazed by that world and she wanted to get away from out of the city and find some rest in the country. So I should be there this weekend coming. Yes, if you are around, please stop by.

In any event stop by and tell them at the house you are a friend of mine and moreover they have met you. Stop by and tell Mama about the genealogical research you have been doing. She will be very impressed and it would give her some joy. Our love of stories of our past is as great as our love of land our families struggled to obtain and have passed down from generation to generation.

My cousin Sandra Rivers is married to a Southampton Turner. There was I am almost certain more than one set of white Turners that came out of the late 18th century who were owners of slaves. What was their relationship I am uncertain. Of course, the line we are concerned with is that which lead down from Benjamin Turner, who had at least two sons. We are certain that one of these sons Samuel had children. And that Benjamin owned at least thirty slaves during the life of Nathaniel. But I do not know of any fast and certain genealogical work that has been done on Benjamin Turner’s descendants and his slaves.

Of course, there are numerous persons who claim to descend from Nathaniel, and descended directly too. There are some who claim descent who have had no connection whatsoever with Southampton. I know of one such story published in a reputable historical journal. But that is so much garbage in so far as it tells us something important about Turner and his family, as so much of the stories written on Nathaniel are worthless at getting at the truth of his life..

Yes, I agree with you absolutely. The real story here is how the skull was acquired before Richard Hatcher received it and that the history of the skull ownership should be finally made public after having been kept virtually a secret for 170 years. Of course, the connected story is the authentication of the skull and the method used by this Indiana historian. Hatcher himself would do well to play an active role in  revealing the truth of this history if he really is interested in coming clean in this matter. But as I said this whole matter may be a hoax and that they really do not have Turner’s skull at all.

This episode however may spur genealogical research in Southampton. If we can find the family or the descendants of Benjamin Turner, the y-chromosome method might be used to establish a relationship between the black Turners and the white Turners. For as I said, my conclusion is that Nathaniel was the son of Benjamin and thus to be related to Nathaniel, any claimants to relation with Nathaniel must have that y-chromosome. But even that will not show that the person is a direct or a child of Nathaniel. My other conclusion is that Samuel Turner created some black babies and the black babies that were ascribed to Nathaniel were actually those of Samuel. My overall conclusion is that Nathaniel had no children, that he was an ascetic and refrained from sex with any woman for he did not want to produce slaves.

It will be very interesting how this matter further develops and resolves itself. The reporter that called me earlier in the week must not have published the results of her investigation for she did not notify me of its publication. So things maybe happening behind closed doors to squelch this story of Turner’s skull. It has gone places no one expected.

I do I hope I see you over the holiday season down home. I wish you an enliven spirit and all that you seek in the new year. 

As ever and always, Rudy

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Nathaniel Turner TimeLine  / 1831 Confessions     /  Sonnets in Memory of Nathaniel Turner (Rudolph Lewis)

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Nathaniel Turner: Christian Martyrdom in Southampton: A Theology of Black Liberation (Rudolph Lewis)

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Nat Turner in History’s Multiple Mirrors  (Felecia R. Lee, NYTimes)  /  Hatcher Plans to Exhibit Turner Skull


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Insurrection Of The Blacks Niles’ Register  Sept. 3 1831 Sept. 10, 1831 / Sept 17, 1831

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 28 June 2008



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Related files:  Hatchers Skull Letter    Richard Hatcher’s  Skull    Hatcher Hampered By Post Tribune  Acts of Desecration and Demystification

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