Saturday, June 19, 2021

Book Review; Who is Nat Turner.

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( There has been much written about the man we know as Nat Turner, and movies such as Birth of a Nation. Though Nat Turner is a name attached to rebellion and blood in history very little is known about the men. Some say he was a religious lunatic, and others say he was rebel focused on the cause of freedom. Regardless of the stance one takes to America he was “troublesome property” the kind that eventually cost the ultimate price. It’s amazing that some historians would see him as a religious lunatic or fanatic when one could say the same for the white people that used religion to justify the inhumane institution of slavery. On could argue they are the true lunatics. In an effort to piece together as much actual history as possible in literary form “In the Matter of Nat Turner: A Speculative History” by Christopher Tomlin was written.

It is important to note Tomlin acknowledges that some work on Turner would be speculative in a sense that as a historian he is trying to hear Turner where there is very little to work with. As with other subjects there isn’t a lot of actual records, descriptions, not a marked resting place to work out what the life of Nat Turner would have actually been. Tomlin is honest about his limitations, but he doesn’t make the mistake of some previous writers by making Turner out to be merely a religious fanatic seeing visions with no true direction. Turner is not depicted as simply one thing. As much as can be deciphered about Nat Turner is allowed to shine in the book.

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I appreciate that this text was not written to make Nat Turner understandable to white readers. His cause and conditions are clear. It can be assumed if the reader were in Nat Turner’s shoes they would have felt and acted in a similar manner. The author is more concerned with as much historical accuracy as possible. This makes the book an interesting read, but it can be difficult depending on the initial understanding of the reader. This book begins speaking on monstrous presentation of Turner that lead a previous author to create an “invented” version of who Nat Turner was. “ The Turner of record, Styron emphasized confidently, consistently, repeatedly – was “a ruthless and perhaps psychotic fanatic, a religious fanatic,” a “madman,” a “dangerous religious lunatic,” a “demented ogre beset by bloody visions,” who had led “ a drunken band of followers on a massacre of unarmed folks.””

Reading that description, as a black reader, was not a surprise but it was angering. It was just as angering to have read “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron where inventing a lie seemed to be better than attacking the heinous depiction of Nat Turner. Christopher Tomlin is not looking to validate white hatred of Turner nor create fiction. In his book he’s trying to give the reader a viewpoint that is as close as he can get to accuracy given what isn’t in documentation.

I would urge readers to check out this book, it will be available anywhere books are sold March 10, 2020, and compare it to your own research and what you know of Nat Turner. He didn’t use religion to pacify his condition…it was used to fight such. Given where we are now in society getting a deeper understanding of Nat Turner would be beneficial to movement, and how we see religion.

Staff Writer; Christian Starr

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