ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Certainly, the project of reconstructing or “restructuring the real Turner” and the events of August 1831,
is indeed a worthwhile endeavor, if truth is our object. In such a search, we can not begin with the
standard view, the slaveholder or “white” view, that is, that Turner was “mad,” a “fiend,” a “beast.”
Section 1 Chapter 2
Christian Martyrdom in Southampton
A Theology of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
* * * * *
Holy Man, Hoax, or Fiend?
An Argument for Turner’s Integrity
Most historical and literary commentators have lacked Gayraud S. Wilmores religious sensibility and perceptiveness in their assessment of Nathaiel Turners character and temperament. Wilmore, a leading African-American Christian theologian, understood that prophethood required a seasoning period and that the “1831 Confessions” concerns itself with time and timeliness. Lacking Wilmores diligent search for meaning from a religious perspective, Turner detractors tend rather to expose their ethnic, racial, religious, and class prejudices. Their air of certainty and authority conceals that which is behind their arguments. That is, theological and philosophical presuppositions have affected and predetermined the image we have of Turner and his character.
In his journalistic history of the Negro, Lerone Bennett of Ebony magazine, though not altogether inaccurate, provides a mocking, less than flattering, physical description of Turner: “Nat was five feet, six inches tall, a little dumpy perhaps, running to fat around the middle, with a mustache and a little tuft of hair on his chin” (Before the Mayflower, p. 118). Despite his urbane and sophisticated manner, Bennett was a bit too willing to play on the ethnic joke of the chicken-eating Baptist preacher.
Of course, none would dare be so breezy in his description of Martin Luther King, Jr., though King and Turner were similar in build and in complexion. Moreover, stature does not determine genius nor courage, for, if we recall, Napoleon was only five feet two. Bennett, however, voiced obliquely a common, but gut-troubling doubt. Could such an earthen vessel as Nathaniel Turner, a Christian slave in backwoods Virginia, be the means to convey a truth to mankind?
As for Nathaniel Turners intellect, the Negro historian Benjamin Quarles wrote: “Turners preparation consisted of prayer and looking for a sign from on high, rather than in the enlisting of a larger force“ (The Negro in the Making of America, p. 82). Quarles denied Turner Mircea Eliades “consciousness of a real and meaningful world, intimately connected with the discovery of the sacred” (Teubal, 194). Quarles precluded the possibility that Turner heard voices in the realm of the sacred and was a medium for those divine voices. From Quarles perspective, Turner was not a practical man; he did not know how to prepare for an “insurrection.” Waiting for a “sign from on high” was not how a reasonable leader should have directed his energies.
Quarles, however, never really posed the essential question. Was “insurrection” indeed what Turner sought? Even with Quarles insight into the slave past, we still can not comprehend what would have been accomplished in deeds, if Turner had possessed a large, well-disciplined force. What would have happened if they had captured the arsenal at Jerusalem?
Quarles believed Turner fell short of being a man of reason, not quite modern, “enthusiastic,” yes, as some would say. Quarles historical method can not come to grips with a revelatory consciousness such as that possessed by Nathaniel Turner. His historical perspective can not account for miracles. Quarles believed that faith in scripture was at odds with reason, natural laws, and modern scholarship.
Mircea Eliade has written. “In short, the sacred is an element in the structure of consciousness.” It can also be maintained that the “sacred” is an element in the structure of religious history and not a stage in the history itself (Teubal, p. 191).
This dilemma is a problem of Quarles scholarship, however, rather than Turner himself. Yet such historical methods muddy the water and our view of Turners life. Turner, however, was in search for that which was real in the oppression that was American slavery. Quarles historical approach suppressed that which existed in the Christian slave consciousness: the prophetic voice.
Clearly, however much Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey were men of reason and found acceptable, the fact remains they never got off a rebellious shot. In contrast, God-directed, Turner could not be silenced nor his efforts thwarted. At their trials and at the gallows, Prosser and Vesey were both impressive martyrs. In their results, they, though courageous and well-meaning, were more men of words than of deeds. They never made an assault on the property of slaveholders nor dipped their hands in the enemys blood, an horrific mess for intellectuals who prefer the pristine cleanliness of abstractions. The two martyrs were hanged, 1800 and 1822, respectively, for what they planned to do.
Turner, however, slaughtered men, women, and children in the name of Christ. Blood on his hands and ready to atone for his deeds, Turner was hanged and has been denigrated in his time and ours for what he accomplished. In essence, commentators on Nathaniel Turner, his visions, and his religious work have not considered him in his full integrity in his words or his deeds.
Even when some black religionists consider Turners words, they surprisingly do not know what to make of themhis life, his Christianity. They seem too ready to believe that Nathaniel Turner was not true to himself in all his words and actions. These religious critics seem unable to get beyond the surface meaning of Turners words. The general critical view tends to set Turners religion outside of orthodox Christianity. For these critics, Turners Christianity is cultic, “mysteriously black,” “black religious nationalism” (Ogbonna, p. 51). According to Dwight Hopkins, “Turner brought together a radical biblical understanding from the perspective of the bottom of society” (Down, Up, and Over, p. 135).
The term “bottom of society” suggests that Turner had on his feet the mud of “enthusiasm,” a code word used by more rationalist theologians when they want to disparage those who opt to work against the status quo. Hopkins, however, has never explored Turners interpretation of the gospels, or even the Old Testament, to discover his radicalism or lack thereof. Surely, Turners deeds were radical. But one did not have to be that radical to possess enmity toward the religion of slaveholders in Cross Keys.
Despite what some may believe, there is no unfathomable mystery in Turner. He talked about that which is at the center of Christianity, namely, God and mans relationship with the divine and his neighbor. Turner at the “bottom of society” was not the causal factor in his exegetical interpretations of scripture. His view did not differ from his era. Turner said clearly he operated under a divine impulse. Faith was at the center of his religion. Whatever materialist factors Hopkins imagines produced Turners theology, Turner claimed he was taught by the Holy Spirit and Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet who was born in a stable.
We may ask, in passing, Was Jesus position in Roman imperial society really that different structurally from that of Turner and other Christian slaves in America? Might not even an illiterate Christian slave see the similarity. As Hopkins said of Turner, the Pharisees and clerics believed that Jesus Sermon on the Mount “brought together a radical biblical understanding from the perspective of the bottom of society.”
Nathaniel Turner is too indecorous for Hopkins religious comfort and sophistication. Turners suspected mysticism is in a world beyond his understanding, beyond his intellectual and theological accessibility. According to Hopkins, Turners “religious language” is “steeped in symbolic and metaphorical discourse with encoded significance only Rev. Turner could decipher” (Down, Up, and Over, p. 135). Reading Hopkins comments, for a moment, one is led almost to believe Turner used language other than English and symbols other than Christian ones.
Certainly, that was not the case. Yet Hopkins, a leading African-American Christian theologian, drew an exegetical blank in his reading of the “1831 Confessions.” Throwing up his hands in spiritual helplessness, Hopkins insinuates that Turners religion has some other source than the Christian Bible. Lacking expertise in Turners mysterious sources, Hopkins excuses himself of further commentary.
Clearly, Hopkins difficulties exist on two levels: 1) He does not believe that a man such as Nathaniel Turner, such “an earthen vessel,” could have received a call to prophesy from Christ; that is, Turner was no true prophet; 2) If such a man as Nathaniel Turner had indeed “communed” with the Holy Spirit, God would not have counseled mass slaughter, a holocaust. Such negations can only be balanced by these affirmations of the divine: none can proscribe God nor Gods relationship to Nathaniel Turner or any other individual. God can not be bottled in a theological formula.
Yet one understands Hopkins shortcomings with respect to these matters, for these objections are the barriers we must surmount to gain a truthful view of Nathaniel Turners life and the significance of his “Confessions.” Turner asked, however, only for a momentary suspension of disbelief. It is a feat not too cumbersome, for in the world of literary and visual arts we do it all the time. In his religious skepticism, Dwight Hopkins, nevertheless, is not alone. His view is only the traditional one in contemporary dress.
Hopkins refuses to believe that Turner, like others, can not believe, Paul on the road to Damascus, “communed” directly with the divine. His “enlightened Christianity” can not countenance the thought. Such encounters, however, can be found in Turners “Confessions.” In matters of scriptures, one has a choice to believe Pauls call; one also has a choice to believe Nathaniel Turners call. One is justified by ones faith, except, probably, in matters of scholarship. Hopkins accepts Pauls account of the divine and rejects Turners. In neither case can such phenomena be empirically verified. In his reservations, Hopkins theology differs very little from that of Turners oppressors.
Like others, Hopkins seems to believe only a “false Christ” could have commanded such violence. Turner suffered from hallucinations. That is, Turner was mad. It was too fantastic an act to be associated with Jesus of Nazareth, the man without blemish, without sin. Sins, however, disqualify none from the status of prophethood. Like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, Turner sinned and asked God’s forgiveness. The leading commentators on Turner, like the descendants of slaveholders in Southampton County, Virginia, et al., have not, however, forgiven him, the prophet of Southampton. This mode of theological response to Turners religiosity has a history which extends back to the nineteenth century, to the writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and William Wells Brown.
Higginson was a New England abolitionist and an aide to John Brown and commander of a black regiment during the Civil War. Higginson believed unquestioningly that Nathaniel Turner was an “extraordinary man.” His reactions to Turners “1831 Confessions” are, however, mixed. Eight years old at Turners death, Higginson doubted the depths and heights of Turners Christianity. He concluded that Turner was a “self-appointed prophet.” For him, Turner was not a searcher after truth and justice. Higginson felt that slavery had caused Turner and his men to return to a state of savagery.
Thomas R. Gray said as much in his appended comments to the “1831 Confessions.” Higginson believed the “insurgents” were possessed by some totem spirit still operative in their blood. But such ethnic condescension was not restricted to Higginson and Gray. It was typical of the age. For over a millennium, other prophets, such as Mohammed and Paul, received such opprobrium.
In his Atlantic Monthly article (August 1861), thirty years after the Southampton Rebellion, Higginson pointed out that Turner still horrified Americas memory and that Turner still evoked images of “wild retribution” (Foner, p.135). The “wild” here is in the context of what is “civilized,” of what is “primitive” and what is “modern.” During this era of American life, any initiative by nonwhites in their own defense was portrayed adversely by the American press. Christian slaves usually found themselves described by American whites, in the vocabulary of the times, as a people in need of the civilizing influences of Anglo-Saxon culture.
Higginsons imaginative re-creation of Turner and his men tells us more about the writer than his subject: “Swift and stealthily as Indians, the black men passed from house to house,not passing, not hesitating . . . nothing that had a white skin was spared” (Foner, p. 133). Much evidence exists, however, that Turner did not possess the indiscriminate hatred for whites Higginson imagined in his melodramatic re-creation.
Considered once the first Negro novelist, historian and abolitionist William Wells Brown initially wrote in 1861 that Nathaniel Turner was a “martyr to the freedom of his race, and a victim to his own fanaticism.” Twenty years later in his My Southern Home (1880) Brown was unhappy with his religious/political explanation of Turners motives.
Following Higginsons lead, Brown refined his environmentalist interpretation of Turner and his deeds. In this new work, he introduced anthropological, psychological, and sociological elements to explain Turners radical departure from what Brown viewed as enlightened Christianity. For Brown, to utter the names Turner and Christ in the same breath bordered on blasphemy. “Nat Turners strike for liberty,” according to Brown, “was the outburst of an insane manmade so by slavery.”
Clearly, Brown believed that the Prophet of Cross Keys was an impostor, a hoaxthe fodder for minstrelsy. Brown pleaded with Negroes to put aside their past, presumably their savage African past, and advised them to “imitate the best examples set us by the cultivated whites, and by so doing we will teach them they can claim no superiority on account of race.”
Denmark Vesey was “noble,” according to Brown, elevating Vesey above Turner (Foner, p. 145), even though Vesey, by some accounts, also planned to kill men, women, and children in his revolt (Wilmore, p. 61). For William Wells Brown, Turner was not only psychotic, but also immoral. Worst, he was not fully “cultivated.” As with Higginson, Brown concerned himself more with his place, character, and temperament within Anglo-American culture than with Nathaniel Turners life and religion.
On the 100th anniversary of Turners Rebellion, in an Opportunity article (November 1931), entitled “Nat Turner: Fiend or Martyr?” Rayford W. Logan posed the recurring question concerning Turners character. Turner, according to Logan, had been made out by some to be a “bloodthirsty beast” (Foner, pp. 161-166). This view was implied in Higginson account and in Grays appended comments. This tradition of false characterizations began in the Virginia newspapers. Letter writers to the papers described Turner most frequently with the religious term”fiend,” one of Satans beastly minions seeking petty revenge (Tragle, pp. 35-156).
In his appended remarks, Gray also reiterated the term “fiend” several times in his description of Turner. Emphasizing his less than human status, the “more responsible and reasonable” whites of Southampton believed Nathaniel Turner became “wretched” because he lacked the mental capacity to manage religious concepts beyond his intellectual and moral reach. Gray believed that Turners early religious impressions from his parents warped his mind.
These attacks on Turners life and its meaning resurfaced during the turbulent challenges to American democracy in the 1960s and 1970s. In their American Quarterly article (October 1971) on the mythic aspects of Turners life, Seymour Gross and Eileen Bender made their position blatantly clear with respect to the Nat Turner controversy then still brewing. They mounted a fundamental defense of William Styron and his Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), a work which many felt desecrated the memory of Nathaniel Turner. Discounting the critical reactions of black intellectuals, Gross and Bender, two university professors, accepted unthinkingly pro-slavery characterizations of Turner.
With high-minded indignation, however, Gross and Bender defended William Styron, a white Southern writer raised in Tidewater Virginia. Their defense was an offensive attack against the race-based arguments made by the “ten black writers” of William Styrons Nat Turner (1968), edited by John Henrik Clarke. As self-appointed arbiters of the controversy, Gross and Bender concluded that there was no “right view” the “ten black writers” could sustain. On that point, their critique had bite in that the “ten black writers” did not consistently make discerning distinctions between fact and folklore, which in itself needs interpretation. Overall, Gross and Benders critique was a negative one. Their attempt to constrict Turners character to a singular view seems too abrupt, immodest, and wrongheaded.
Early in their essay, Gross and Bender made a forthright statement of their assessment of Turner and his career in Southampton. Turner, they concluded, was “a grandly mad or a madly grand slave.” Neither Gross nor Bender, I suspect, were experts in either religion or psychology. Nevertheless, according to these two university scholars, Turner “rendered himself unavailable to normal human feelings.” Like many Turner detractors, Gross and Bender believed that Turner, as a slave with a “kind master,” had no cause for his “orgy of butchery,” that his “motiveless malevolence” made him unmistakably a “bloody fiend” (“The Myth of Nat Turner,” pp. 496-499).
From their literary view, Turner was a monster, a Grendel, whose only hope was Hell. In fairness to William Styron the novelist, it must be said, his Freudian/existential approach, however, does not sustain the medieval view ascribed to Turner by Gross and Bender.
Because Turner is a “mythic figure,” Gross and Bender believed that Turners life is thereby free game to any writer. They supported this position by summarily pointing out conflicting “facts” in a number of literary accounts, which were used for ideological ends. In that no one has gotten, heretofore, Turners story right, they reasoned such an endeavor was a lost cause. For, according to Gross and Bender, it is “perhaps impossible by now to unscramble all but the most salient facts of the Turner insurrection from the legendizing matter which has been spun around it” (“The Myth of Nat Turner,” p. 499). To their satisfaction, sufficient historical facts can not be established.
Moreover, that others have made use of Turner as they please, Gross and Bender believed, it was perfectly legitimate for Styron, despite his historical errors, to do his “meditation on history,” that is, aesthetically manipulate and color Turners life as his imagination guided him. In their view, the mythic and monstrous Nat Turner had no integrity that could be established; at least, none they would deign to grant. Such a wild argument in service of literary freedom, however, can not stand as scholarship. Slavery, race, sex, and religion and how these phenomena coalesce in our personal and national identities are exceedingly relevant matters in American culture, yesterday and today. Getting the factual details right trumps both myth and fantasy.
Gross and Bender rushed to judgment on Turner and the Southampton Rebellion. Like others before them, they were too cavalier in their disposal of Turners life and the memory of his life. Unaware to them at the time, their type of wild reasoning about the facts of Turners life in Southampton troubled more than just black intellectuals. Historian Henry Irving Tragle, thereafter, published his documentary history of the Southampton Revolt (1971), and folk historian Gilbert Francis of Southampton produced his video narrative of the Turner Rebellion. Styrons novelized account cast aspersions and untruths not only upon Turner but also upon white families of Southampton.
Certainly, the project of reconstructing or “restructuring the real Turner” and the events of August 1831, is indeed a worthwhile endeavor, if truth is our object. In such a search, we can not begin with the standard view, the slaveholder or “white” view, that is, that Turner was “mad,” a “fiend,” a “beast.” Such ribald attacks on Turners character do not bring us closer to the actuality of the events of Cross Keys. What is most regrettable in these recent writers on Turner is that they have no willingness to extend any respect or consideration to Turner as a Christian slave or any sympathy for his holy war on Cross Keys slaveholders. Gross and Bender, from a literary point of view, stood hardly in awe that Turner raised himself up from the pits of hell that was slavery against great opposition to a pinnacle of renown and a measure of respect for his Christian manhood.
To be just, we must approach Nathaniel Turner conscientiously as a religious person, as a Virginia Methodist, and explore what that meant in the context of his life. Turner was well trained in this denominations religious views and sought continually to become a member of the local Cross Keys church. Wesleyan Methodism stood against slavery and slave trading, though over time these positions were modified in Southern practice.
Virginia Methodism, at its best, in practice, had a Pauline view of slavery, which counseled a recognition of the slaves humanity and encouraged Christian slaveowners to treat Christian slaves as their brothers in Christ. From 1780 to 1810, this Methodist position on slavery was a moderate one. They staked out a moral view between the radical Protestants, such as the Quakers and Unitarians, and those churches of the South that became “Slave-holding Churches,” such as the “Old School Presbyterian, the Protestant Episcopal, the Roman Catholic and the Methodist Episcopal Church” (Hall, p. 287).
Though aligned with Methodists, Turner had views, of course, that varied with those of some Methodist slaveowners, who began more and more to emphasize race in their Christian perception of the world. Turner would have found William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), the Unitarian pastor of Federal Street Church in Boston, more acceptable in his racial views than those of many whites in his own community of Cross Keys. Channing preached often about Christian responsibility to ones fellow man and “the moral importance of the question of slavery.”
In Chapter Five of Slavery (1835), Channing wrote: “According to our decision of it, we determine our comprehension of the Christian law. He who cannot see a brother, a child of God, a man possessing all the rights of humanity, under a skin darker than his own, wants the vision of a Christian. He worships the outward. The spirit is not yet revealed to him” (Gaustad, p. 160).
The appropriate connection of slavery and Christianity was, for Turner, central to all his religious concerns. Race, however, seemed to have been a tertiary issue with respect to questions of spirituality and openness to salvation. As he became a man, Turner eventually concluded that the Methodists of Cross Keys lacked “the vision of a Christian.”
What then was the character of Nathaniel Turner? Was he insurrectionist, revolutionary, fiend, or holy man? To respond adequately to this question, we must follow his development in its religious context. Turners life conforms to four time divisions: 1800-1810; 1810-1823; 1823-1828; and 1828-1831. If one wants to “understand the cause of the insurrection,” according to Gilbert Francis, a researcher and a descendent of Southampton slaveholders, one must “fully understand the four segments” of Turners life (Nat Turner Insurrection1831, tape 1). These “segments” or phases correspond to Turners ownership by four different masters: Benjamin Turner (possibly his father); Samuel Turner, son of Benjamin (and possibly his half brother); Thomas Moore; and Putnam Moore, son of Thomas.
Though rationalized, especially economically, Turners agrarian world was one in which revealed religion still had efficacy. To experience Turners religious world as a Christian slave of four masters, we need a deeper understanding of the religious environment in which Turner developed his religious consciousness. To provide a fair assessment of a sacred text, to use the words of Sandra M. Schneiders, we need to look at the “world behind the text.” The “Confessions” is a text that is at once “literary-historical in form and historical-theological in content” (The Revelatory Text, p. 127).
That is, there is a need for a greater understanding of the religious world behind the “1831 Confessions.” That world included the notion of dying for God. Instead of looking at Turners life as a model of martyrdom, the traditional historical effort has modeled Turners life as that of the trickster. For these detractors, the basic mode of Turners life is one of deception. The “1831 Confessions,” nevertheless, should be read as a Christian martyr text (Boyarin, p. 121).
Though he and his fellow religionists were affected by a theology of biblical authority, Turners religious spirit went beyond biblical fundamentalism. Turner “communed” with the Holy Spirit in the manner of the first century Christian apostles. Turner reported numerous miracles, both natural and healing miracles, that need appraisal and the role they played in his spiritual development. Turner died confident of the truth of his mission and trusted in the mercy of God and his salvation. To take Turner at his word, this discussion will reconstruct Turners life by a full and sustained recognition of his religious integrity and truth, which hinges on his identity as a Christian prophet. The overriding intent of this work is to establish the credibility of Turner, in the words of Martin Luther, as one of the “masks of God,” wherein God worked out his purpose with regard to black slavery in America.
Bennett, Jr., Lerone. Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1964. New York: Pelican, 1968.
Boyarin, Daniel. Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Clarke, John Henrik, ed. William Styrons Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.
Foner, Eric, ed. Nat Turner: Great Lives Observed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,1971.
Francis, Gilbert, and Katherine Futrell. Nat Turner Insurrection1831. Southampton County Historical Society Living Library, 4 tapes.
Gaustad, Edwin Scott, ed. Religious Issues in American History. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1968.
Gross, Seymour and Eileen Bender. “History, Politics, and Literature: The Myth of Nat Turner.” American Quarterly, Vol. 23 (October 1971), pp. 487-518.
Hall, Thomas Cunning. The Religious Background of American Culture. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1930.
Hopkins, Dwight. Down, Up, and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000.
Ogbonna, Jeffrey and Green Ogbar. “Prophet Nat and Gods Children of Darkness: Black Religious Nationalism.” Journal of Religious Thought, 53/54 (1997), pp. 51-72.
Schneiders, Sandra M. The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991.
Teubal, Savina J. Hagar the Egyptian: The Lost Tradition of the Matriarchs. San Francisco; HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.
Tragle, Henry Irving. The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831: A Compilation of Source Material. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1971.
Wilmore, Gayraud S. Black Religions and Black Radicalism. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1972.
* * * * *
A Theology of Black Liberation
By Rudolph Lewis
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Edited by Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith
Pictures and Progress explores how, during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth, prominent African American intellectuals and activists understood photography’s power to shape perceptions about race and employed the new medium in their quest for social and political justice. They sought both to counter widely circulating racist imagery and to use self-representation as a means of empowerment. In this collection of essays, scholars from various disciplines consider figures including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and W. E. B. Du Bois as important and innovative theorists and practitioners of photography. In addition, brief interpretive essays, or “snapshots,” highlight and analyze the work of four early African American photographers. Featuring more than seventy images, Pictures and Progress brings to light the wide-ranging practices of early African American photography, as well as the effects of photography on racialized thinking. Douglass and the Progress of Photography
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By Henry Irving Tragle
This case book on the most significant slave revolt in American history adds an important dimension to the study of slavery in the United States. Tragle has not only collected all the extant primary documents (the trial record, newspaper accounts, letters, diaries and other contemporary sources, most of which are published here for the first time), he made several trips to Southampton County to retrace the steps of the rebels and to interview the present inhabitants, both black and white, on the local traditions surrounding Nat Turner.University of Massachusetts Press
The most important single work ever published on the Turner rebellion. Tragle’s research is an example of historical detective work at its best.Eric Foner, New York Review of Books
Tragle’s methods are as important as what he has found. So much can be done, he reminds us, with such non-narrative sources as tax records and manuscript census returns, or by means of a patient reworking of familiar soil.Gerald W. Mullin, The Journal of American History. 489 pages.
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By Jeffrey D. Sachs
The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our countrys economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political partiesand many leading economistshave missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalizations long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. Americas single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not Americas abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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Dorothy Sterlings biography of Robert Smalls is Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958). In most history books, the contributions of Negroes during the Civil War and Reconstructions are ignored. Robert Smalls was one of the heroes who is rarely mentioned. He was a Negro slave who stole a ship from the Confederates, served on it with the Union Army with distinction, and finally served several terms in Congress.
All this was accomplished against the handicaps first of slavery, then of the prejudice of the Union Army, and finally of the Jim Crow laws, which eventually conquered him. Besides its value in contradicting the history book insinuation that the Negro was incapable of political enterprise and that the South was right in imposing Jim Crow laws, Captain of the Planter is an exciting adventure story. Captain Smalls escape from slavery and his battle exploits make interesting reading, and the style is fast moving.Barbara Dodds
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 27 July 2012