Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia – The Washington Post

‘The haunted houses’: Legacy of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion lingers, but reminders are disappearing


In 1831, during a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, several people were killed at the site of the Whitehead house. Today, this is all that remains. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

April 30

 Kids grow up in rural Southampton County hearing that the mist creeping across the fields might be something unearthly. Old folks warn them not to sneak into abandoned houses, where rotting floors and walls are said to be stained with blood.

This is a haunted landscape.

Nearly 188 years ago, the self-styled preacher Nat Turner led fellow slaves from farm to farm in Southampton County, killing almost every white person they could find. Scores of blacks were murdered in reprisals throughout the South.

The legacy of the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history still hangs over the sandy soil and blackwater cypress swamps of this county along the North Carolina line, but the physical traces of the event are vanishing.

“A lot of the sites that tell the story have been destroyed,” said Cassandra Newby-Alexander, a historian at Norfolk State University. In Southampton and elsewhere, she said, neglect and denial have “tended to obliterate the presence of African Americans . . . as well as eliminating our history of slavery.”

History is Virginia’s biggest cash crop. It drives tourism, sets identity. Until recently, Virginia’s celebration of its grand past glossed over the stain of slavery that marks every statue, parchment and Flemish bond facade.

That’s changing: This year, the state commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first documented Africans being brought to the English colony. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello presents detailed narratives of enslaved life. A museum that will include the perspective of the enslaved on the Civil War is opening in Richmond.

But around the state, tangible reminders of slave history remain unmarked. The landmarks are deteriorating, their significance preserved mainly in memories and stories. Petersburg’s 1854 Southside Depot, for instance, is one of the few pre-Civil War train stations in the South, where the enslaved were both workers and cargo. It sits empty.

Scholars are racing to identify slave cabins across Virginia before they disappear. In Richmond, leaders squabble over how to mark the site of the notorious Lumpkin’s Jail, a slaveholding facility, as well as the city’s slave market — one of the most active in the South — without disrupting the hip restaurant-and-condo scene growing up around it.


After years of research, Bruce Turner, 71, of Virginia Beach, believes Nat Turner was his great-great-great-grandfather. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

“What we choose to preserve is really a reflection of what we care about,” said Justin Reid, director of African American Programs for Virginia Humanities, who is helping coordinate a statewide effort to recognize slavery’s legacy. “When our cultural landscape is devoid of these sites, we’re sending the message that this history is less important, and the people connected to these sites are less important.”

Nowhere is the tension stronger than in Southampton County, where the history carries particular pain. Nat Turner is both a villain and a hero of American history. The split has long inflamed racial divides.

Born into slavery around 1800, Turner was literate, charismatic and deeply religious. He once baptized a white man, and some accounts describe how he spent 30 days wandering the county in search of his father before voluntarily resuming his life in bondage.

According to the confessions he allegedly made shortly before being executed, Turner saw visions from God urging him to seek vengeance on his white oppressors. A solar eclipse that passed over Southampton County in 1831 was the sign to act. On Aug. 21, he met with a half-dozen other enslaved people at a pond in the woods, where they plotted for several hours before striking out into the night, taking knives and farm implements to use as weapons.

Attacking farmhouses in the darkness and picking up supporters along the way, Turner and his rebels killed some 55 white men, women and children over the next two days. They were eventually scattered by militia infantry, and some were rounded up and killed or put on trial. Turner escaped and hid out for two months mostly in a crude “cave” — a hole dug under a pile of wood — before surrendering on Oct. 30, 1831.

He was tried and hanged Nov. 11, 1831, in the county seat of Jerusalem, known today as Courtland.

Until recently, the all-white county historical society was uncertain how to handle its macabre legacy. Within the past 10 years, though, as popular interest in Turner’s story has grown — including through the controversial 2016 film “Birth of a Nation” — attitudes have loosened.

Work is underway to establish slave-insurrection-history trails: a walking route in Courtland and a driving tour through the southwest corner of the county where the rebellion took place. Much of the information for both resides in the mind of one man.

“If you want to know anything about Nat Turner,” said Thaddeus Stephenson, 55, a black man who said he lives near one of Turner’s hideouts, “Rick Francis is the man.”

Seeing the past

Behind the wheel of a Chevy Suburban with 338,000 miles on the odometer, Francis pulls onto the shoulder at a featureless crossroads. Open farmland stretches in every direction.

This is Cross Keys. Francis begins to populate the scene. There was a wide, shallow building there, he says. A smaller structure across the street. In the summer of 1831, some 1,400 white people gathered here, pouring out of surrounding farms in fear of Turner and the armed rebels.

Militias converged from around the state and from North Carolina. When some members of Turner’s band were rounded up, they were held in a small cell in one of the buildings.

It’s all gone now, not even a mound or brick left to mark the spot. It exists only in Francis’s spirited retelling.

Francis, 63, who is white, is clerk of the county’s circuit court. Several of his ancestors were either victims of Turner’s insurrection or had narrow escapes. Over the course of an afternoon driving around the remote reaches of the county near the village of Boykins, Francis spins a tale of terror, violence and colorful characters — from Red Nelson, the enslaved man who helped save Francis’s pregnant great-great-grandmother, to Will Francis, perhaps the most fearsome killer in Turner’s band.


Rick Francis stands outside the Rebecca Vaughan House in Courtland, Va., where several people were killed in the slave rebellion. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

“He trimmed my family tree,” Rick Francis says of Will Francis, a man owned by one of his ancestors. “I mean, that guy was a killing machine.” But he gives him credit: Where Turner was a “religious fanatic,” he says, Will Francis “was motivated solely by freedom.”

As Francis drives along the old carriage paths, most of which are now paved, he sees things others do not.

Over there, where the dark grass meets the light, that’s where Joseph Travis and his wife were the first ones hacked to death in the insurrection. Where a rusted double-wide trailer stands was the site of Capt. John Barrow’s home. He warned his wife to flee, but she delayed to change her clothes, so he had to fight the rebels on the front porch. His wife escaped out the back; Barrow’s throat was cut.

Many of the homes were still standing as late as the 1970s, but time and weather have ravaged them. Local landowners cannot afford to rebuild so they just clear the rubble. The Richard Porter House is a dark hulk of warped wood, half of it collapsed, all of it shrouded in vines. Here, a young enslaved girl warned the family what was coming and they fled into the woods.

A few miles away, Francis swings off the road, switches on the four-wheel-drive and powers to a nondescript mound of brush. Only when he stops do a low row of bricks, a collapsed tin roof and jagged piles of gray boards become visible under the greenery: the remains of the house of Jacob Williams, who returned from measuring timber in the forest to find his slaves standing over the bodies of his wife and three children.

Nearby, the widow Rebecca Vaughan was allowed to pray before she was killed. Her house, the scene of the insurrection’s final killings, was relocated a few years ago to a spot in Courtland across from the county agriculture museum. It has been neatly restored by the county but remains empty.

The tree where Turner was hanged fell long ago. Francis puts the site in the yard of an old foursquare house on Bride Street in Courtland. A short distance away, around the corner on High Street, is the ditch where Turner’s torso was said to have been tossed after he was decapitated. Sure enough, Francis said, human remains have been found there. At some point, the county hopes to excavate. In the meantime, the spot is marked by tiny wire flags stuck in the weeds, the sort that might designate a property line or a cable route.

The county courthouse stopped flying the Confederate flag in 2015, but a Confederate monument stands on one side of the complex. Inside, in the county records room, Francis maintains a mini-museum to the slave insurrection, displaying old newspapers and artifacts.


The sword believed to have been carried by Turner during the 1831 slave rebellion is kept in the county courthouse. The Southampton County Historical Society is planning a free walking tour around Courtland, Va., that highlights many historical spots in town, many related to Turner and the rebellion. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The biggest prize is Turner’s sword, which is locked away in a courthouse storeroom in a padded rifle case. Francis tucks a pistol in his waistband when he goes to retrieve it. He opens the case and unfolds a white cloth. The curved blade is pitted, and though Turner complained that it was too dull to kill the woman he struck with it, the edge feels plenty sharp.

The Southampton County Historical Society has resisted putting the sword on display. Francis said its members worry people won’t take the tour if they can see the most memorable artifact up front. But maybe there is also a squeamishness about showing off such a fraught piece of history.

Francis believes the insurrection needs to be more widely recognized as an important turning point. It brought the Virginia legislature within a few votes of abolishing slavery, but ultimately, lawmakers tacked the other way, passing harsh crackdowns that prohibited blacks from preaching or learning to read.

Turner is a complicated figure even for African Americans who grew up in Southampton County. Bruce Turner, 71, said his older relatives spoke in hushed terms of a family connection to “the Nat mess.” After years of research, he believes Nat Turner was his great-great-great-grandfather. And by learning more about him, Bruce Turner has become proud of the association.

“I wasn’t sure what he did was right or wrong,” said Turner, a retired computer engineer who lives in Virginia Beach. “Today I admire and honor Nat. I think what he did was correct.”

It’s important to view the insurrection through the historical lens of fighting for freedom, Turner said. The houses, the landscape of Southampton County, evoke that for him now that he knows the full story.

“The houses that were down there . . . we used to call those the haunted houses,” Turner said. “And we were told something terrible had happened there.”

In his childhood, the hanging tree still stood, and the Vaughn house was abandoned in the woods.

“I was always told, oh, you don’t want to go in there, there’s blood spattered up on the walls, and stuff like that. I went in there. I only saw some spots. But it could’ve been mold,” he said.

Stephenson, who lives near one of Nat Turner’s hideouts, heard the same tales about the old houses. “The bricks from the chimney — sometimes when it rains, blood is supposed to seep back out of them,” he said. “That’s some folklore.”

But when you preserve those vanishing sites, you keep the history from fading into myth, Turner said.

“Why preserve Mount Vernon? Or preserve Monticello? They’re part of the history,” he said. “Just because something bad may have happened at a place, or something that was distasteful, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be kept.”

Source: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion ruins are disappearing in Virginia – The Washington Post

Angela: The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown 400 years ago – The Washington Post

A symbol of slavery — and survival Angela’s arrival in Jamestown in 1619 marked the beginning of a subjugation that left millions in chains.

Source: Angela: The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown 400 years ago – The Washington Post

Suffragettes were some of our first women’s historians. But they erased the vital work of black women. – The Lily

“Consistent with the deep-seated prejudices held by most white suffragists, Catt included no plaques to commemorate the thousands of African American women who actively participated in the struggle. Regional chauvinism was an issue as well: All the domestic suffragists were from the East Coast, with New York State vastly overrepresented. There was no one from California or the West, nor anyone from the South, unless you counted the Grimké sisters who left their native South Carolina to settle in Philadelphia and later New Jersey.

For too long, the history of how women won the right to vote has closely paralleled Catt’s suffrage forest: top-heavy and dominated by a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born. Moving away from that outdated approach reveals a broader, more diverse suffrage history waiting to be told, one that shifts the frame of reference away from the national leadership to highlight the women — and occasionally men — who made women’s suffrage happen through actions large and small, courageous and quirky, in states and communities across the nation. Suffrage activists campaigned in church parlors and the halls of Congress, but also in graveyards on the outskirts of college campuses, on the steps of the Treasury building and even on top of Mount Rainier.”

Source: Suffragettes were some of our first women’s historians. But they erased the vital work of black women. – The Lily

An Introduction to the Black Arts Movement | Poetry Foundation

“Black Arts Movement poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti wrote, “And the mission is how do we become a whole people, and how do we begin to essentially tell our narrative, while at the same time move toward a level of success in this country and in the world? And we can do that. I know we can do that.”

Source: An Introduction to the Black Arts Movement | Poetry Foundation

We Should Stop Saying “People of Color” When We Mean “Black People”

“That being said, we need to stop saying “people of color” in instances we mostly (and sometimes only) mean “Black people.”What I’m saying is a bit meta, but the public use of the term POC seems to have become less about solidarity, and more concerned with lessening the negative connotations and implicit anti-Black reactions (fear, scorn, disdain, apathy) to Blackness. In popular discourse, POC is often a shorthand for “this issue affects Black people most directly and disproportionately, but other non-white people are affected too, so we need to include them for people to listen and so people to understand we aren’t talking about race as only Black vs. white.”Saying POC when we mean “Black people” is this concession that there’s a need to describe a marginalized group as “less” Black for in order for people (specifically, but not only, white people) to have empathy for whatever issue being discussed.”

Source: We Should Stop Saying “People of Color” When We Mean “Black People”  

Go to the profile of Joshua Adams

Million Woman March Mission Statement October, 1997

1997-mwm

The Million Woman March was a protest march organized on October 25, 1997, on the Benjamin Franklin Park Way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The march was founded and formulated by Phile Chionesu, a grassroots activist, human rights advocate, Black Nationalist/Freedom Fighter, and owner of an African crafts shop.

The below statement was issued as the basis for the national call to all Black women to come together in Philadelphia, PA

For more information about the MWM of 1997

NYT Coverage of the MWM 1997

Million Woman March Mission Statement  1997

The Million Woman March is being implemented by Black Women who interact on grassroots and global levels. Black Women who understand the necessity of rebuilding our foundation and destiny as a people, and that we must in many respects begin at the origin (the root) upward.

Women of African Descent who reside, struggle and interact in grassroots communities have analysed and assessed unlimited issues and problems. Many of which have resulted in the deterioration of African-American and African people overall. The Million Woman March is capable and ready to create and implement strategic methods of resolving such matters.

The Million Woman March provides us the opportunity to prioritize the human and environmental issues. It will collectively enable us to develop an assertive and aggressive movement to insure the participation and impact of people of African Descent.

It is our belief that it will require collective and comprehensive efforts to develop for determination the process and systems that will be utilized to regain the proper direction of our family structure. By acknowledging and applying the strength and resources that exist within the United States and throughout the world, we will rebuild to strengthen our foundation. It will take the procurement of mechanisms that will bring about the appropriate solutions.
However, there has been various forms of disconnection.

As a result, we no longer bond as a family unit, we no longer teach and prepare our children in the way we wish for them to go. How do girls learn to become women? Who is responsible for teaching morals and values of womanhood? Have we not been the moral sustainers of life? As teachers of life have we failed or are we just existing?

The Million Woman March will revive life as we once exemplified it:

< Great Grandmother taught Grandmother
< Grandmother taught Mother
< Mother taught Me
< I will teach YOU

We will no longer tolerate disrespect, lack of communication, negative interaction, anti-social and dysfunctional behavior and the denial that problems such s these affect our ability to progressively and productively move forwarD. Our focus is centered around the reasons why and what it will require to eliminate this DESTRUCTION.

Lessons From McGraw Hill: The Eurocentric Influence on History Textbooks and Classrooms – The Atlantic

Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.

The recent blunder has to do with one bubble in particular. Pointing to a patch of purple grids extending throughout the country’s Southeast corridor, the one-sentence caption reads:

The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.
The photo that spread through social media was taken by a black Texas student named Coby Burren, who subsequently texted it to his mom, Roni-Dean Burren. “Was real hard workers, wasn’t we,” he wrote. Roni-Dean quickly took to Facebook, lambasting the blunder: the reference to the Africans as workers rather than slaves. A video she later posted has been viewed nearly 2 million times, and her indignation has renewed conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement while attracting coverage by almost every major news outlet. “It talked about the U.S.A. being a country of immigration, but mentioning the slave trade in terms of immigration was just off,” she told The New York Times. “It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.”
McGraw Hill swiftly did its damage control. It announced that it was changing the caption in both the digital and print versions to characterize the migration accurately as a “forced” diaspora of slaves: “We conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves,” the company said in a statement. “We believe we can do better.” Catherine Mathis, the company’s spokeswoman, also emphasized that the textbook accurately referred to the slave trade and its brutality in more than a dozen other instances. And McGraw Hill has offered to provide various additional resources to any school that requests them, including supplemental materials on cultural competency, replacement textbooks, or stickers with a corrected caption to place over the erroneous one. But Texas school districts were already in possession of more than 100,000 copies of the book, while another 40,000, according to Mathis, are in schools in other states across the country.

“We’re not teaching the forest—we’re not even teaching the trees. We are teaching twig history.”
If nothing else, the incident may serve as yet another example of why social studies—and history in particular—is such a tricky subject to teach, at least via textbooks and multiple-choice tests. Its topics are inherently subjective, impossible to distill into paragraphs jammed with facts and figures alone. As the historian and sociologist Jim Loewen recently told me, in history class students typically “have to memorize what we might call ‘twigs.’ We’re not teaching the forest—we’re not even teaching the trees,” said Loewen, best known for his 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. “We are teaching twig history.”

This is in part why a growing number of educators are calling for a fundamental shift in how the subject is taught. Some are even calling on their colleagues to abandon traditional models of teaching history altogether. Instead of promoting the rote memorization of information outlined in a single, mass-produced textbook, these critics argue that teachers should use a variety of primary-source materials and other writings, encouraging kids to analyze how these narratives are written and recognize the ways in which inherent biases shape conventional instructional materials. In an essay for The Atlantic earlier this year, Michael Conway argued that history classes should focus on teaching children “historiography”—the methodologies employed by historians and the exploration of history itself as an academic discipline:

Currently, most students learn history as a set narrative—a process that reinforces the mistaken idea that the past can be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages. This teaching pretends that there is a uniform collective story, which is akin to saying everyone remembers events the same. Yet, history is anything but agreeable. It is not a collection of facts deemed to be “official” by scholars on high. It is a collection of historians exchanging different, often conflicting analyses. And rather than vainly seeking to transcend the inevitable clash of memories, American students would be better served by descending into the bog of conflict and learning the many “histories” that compose the American national story.
But according to Loewen, the shortcomings of the country’s history teachers make the improvement of its instruction, let alone the introduction of historiography, a particularly difficult feat. Compared to their counterparts in other subjects, high-school history teachers are, at least in terms of academic credentials, among the least qualified. A report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences on public high-school educators in 11 subjects found that in the 2011-12 school year, more than a third—34 percent—of those teaching history classes as a primary assignment had neither majored nor been certified in the subject; only about a fourth of them had both credentials. (At least half of the teachers in each of the other 10 categories had both majored and been certified in their assigned subjects.)

MORE ON HISTORY EDUCATION

http://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/mt/2015/02/8006019316_e906e883b8_k/lead_large.jpg?1430146146
The Problem With History Classes
Who Should Decide How Students Learn About America’s Past?
Why Civics Is About More Than Citizenship
In fact, of the 11 subjects—which include the arts, several foreign languages, and natural science—history has seen the largest decline in the percentage of teachers with postsecondary degrees between 2004 and 2012. And it seems that much of the problem has little to do with money: The federal government has already dedicated more than $1 billion over the last decade to developing quality U.S.-history teachers, the largest influx of funding ever, with limited overall results. That’s in part because preparation and licensing policies for teachers vary so much from state to state.
A recent report from the National History Education Clearinghouse revealed a patchwork of training and certification requirements across the country: Only 17 or so states make college course hours in history a criterion for certification, and no state requires history-teacher candidates to have a major or minor in history in order to teach it.

“Many [history teachers] aren’t even interested in American history,” said Loewen, who’s conducted workshops with thousands of history educators across the country, often taking informal polls of their background and competence in the subject. “They just happen to be assigned to it.”

“Many [history teachers] aren’t even interested in American history. They just happen to be assigned to it.”
This disconnect can take a serious toll on the instruction kids receive, according to Loewen. Absent a genuine interest in history, many teachers simply defer to the information contained in textbooks. “They use the textbook not as a tool but as a crutch,” Lowen said. And chances are, that makes for a pretty lousy class. Loewen suspects that these and other textbook woes are largely why students frequently list history and other social-studies subjects as their least favorite classes. And perhaps it’s why so few American adults identify them as the most valuable subjects they learned in school. In a 2013 Gallup poll, just 8 percent of respondents valued history most, while just 3 percent voted for social studies. (First place, or 34 percent of votes, went to math, while 21 percent of respondents selected English and reading.)

And as the McGraw Hill example demonstrates, the textbooks teachers rely on so heavily are prone to flaws. A National Clearinghouse on History Education research brief on four popular elementary and middle-school textbooks concluded that the materials “left out or misordered the cause and consequence of historical events and frequently failed to highlight main ideas.” And the flaws can be much more egregious than isolated errors, disorganization, or a lack of clarity—sometimes they’re fundamental distortions of the contexts leading up to many of today’s most dire social ills.

Source: Lessons From McGraw Hill: The Eurocentric Influence on History Textbooks and Classrooms – The Atlantic

%d bloggers like this: