Teaching Your Children About The Nat Turner Rebellion

by Rick McCray

With all the recent news on the upcoming film, Birth of Nation, many are revisiting a complex time in American History.  The film, expected to be released on October 7, 2016, is a period drama about enslaved American Nate Turner, who led a rebellion in South Hampton, Virginia beginning August 21, 1831.  On that day, Turner, a gifted orator and preacher, led a band of about 70 enslaved men on a journey that resulted in the death of over 50 white men, women, and children.  The band was stopped on August 22 and over the next few months all of them were either executed or resold back into slavery.  Nat Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831 and his body was skinned and mutilated.  This rebellion resulted in the South imposing harsher slave codes as well as laws restricting the liberty of free Blacks.  It also resulted in continued savagery inflicted upon our people in this country.

Nat_Turner_woodcut

We all learned about the rebellion at some point in our educational career.  However, when this event is discussed, it is usually in the context of how brutal Nat Turner and his compatriots were in killing white men, women and children. The discussion rarely includes what these men saw or personally endured that brought them to the point where they were willing to take lives without any thought of repercussions.  That context is very important, and it is something you should discuss with your children.  Here are some important lessons children can learn from the Nat Turner Rebellion:

Surviving American slavery proved the African people were strong.  Africans were incredibly strong to survive the constant horrors of slavery. Slavery is a dark part of American History that existed for centuries. Jim Crow and government sanctioned discrimination impacted our communities for decades after that.  Despite all of this, our people are still here and thriving.

Sometimes you have to fight and that is okay.  I know, I know.  In a world where we are forced to have conversations with our children about the different set of rules they must follow when interacting with authority figures, fighting is never the answer.  Yet, the reality is that at some point in life you will have to fight back.  Your fight may not be physical; it might be as simple as standing up for yourself by telling someone to stop treating you poorly.  Telling your children that at certain times you can and must fight in order to protect lives may be unavoidable.  As parents, we never want to think of our little ones having to defend their lives.  However, sometimes we have to let them know that their lives are of utmost importance and must be protected at all costs.  

No one that they read about in a history book was an angel.  If you want to discuss the violence that Nat Turner and his compatriots leveled in a negative manner, that is your choice.  However, make sure you also teach about the violent time Nat Turner was living in.  Slavery was a legal institution that involved torture, murder, molestation, rape, mutilation, and countless other horrors without consequence.  American history is complicated, and there are no one size fits all interpretations of any event.  It is important to make sure our children are aware of different perspectives and interpretations outside of their school’s history books.  

Every action has a reaction.  Treating people wrong repeatedly without correcting your behavior will always result in a negative outcome.  There are always consequences.  Always treat others the way you want to be treated.

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

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