We're all eagerly awaiting the release of Nate Parker's movie, Birth of A Nation. Now Simon and Schuster has an announcement up on their website about a companion book to the movie, Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement. Cribbing now from Simon and Schuster's website:
This official tie-in to the highly acclaimed film, The Birth of a Nation, surveys the history and legacy of Nat Turner, the leader of one of the most renowned slave rebellions on American soil, while also exploring Turner’s relevance to contemporary dialogues on race relations.
Based on astounding events in American history, The Birth of a Nation is the epic story of one man championing the spirit of resistance as he leads a rough-and-tumble group into a revolt against injustice and slavery.
Breathing new life into a story that has been rife with controversy and prejudice for over two centuries, the film follows the rise of the visionary Virginian slave, Nat Turner. Hired out by his owner to preach to and placate slaves on drought-plagued plantations, Turner eventually transforms into an inspired, impassioned, and fierce anti-slavery leader.
Beautifully illustrated with stills from the movie and original illustrations, the book also features an essay by writer/director, Nate Parker, contributions by members of the cast and crew, and commentary by educator Brian Favors and historians Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Daina Ramey Berry who place Nat Turner and the rebellion he led into historical context. The Birth of a Nation reframes the way we think about slavery and resistance as it explores the passion, determination, and faith that inspired Nat Turner to sacrifice everything for freedom.
Further to this topic, I have an article about the trials in the wake of the Nat Turner rebellion, which sorts through the limited evidence we have in each case to see various levels of (supposed) involvement in the rebellion, as well as the prosecution and defense lawyers, and the claims made by slave-owners to the Virginia legislature for slaves killed during the rebellion. There's been a lot written about Turner, the context of slavery and religion in Virginia around the time of the rebellion, the violence in the aftermath, and how the rebellion affected both the anti-slavery and pro-slavery movements down to the Civil War. But I think one area that (maybe not completely surprisingly) has escaped a lot of attention are the trials. I had once planned to call this piece "micro trials and macro history," with the idea that the trials were very short. At their height several defendants were tried each day. My thought was that these tiny trials gave an important insight into how the legal system was concerned with re-establishing order and shoring up the slave system. But as I worked through each of the trials and the supporting documents (such as notes about witnesses compiled by the prosecutors) it became apparent that there were a lot of stories to be told about the rebellion, beyond the function that the trials served in shoring up slavery.
The illustration is the Sussex County Courthouse, where some slaves were tried in the wake of the rebellion. Most of the trial were in Southampton, but the courthouse where those trials took place is no longer standing. The Southampton courthouse was built shortly after the rebellion.
Update: These days my posts on race and legal history often get extreme reactions. This is further evidence, as I've pointed out before, of the relevance of talk of race in American legal history. I usually take down those comments, but I think this one needs to stay up for the time being. Of course, the person commenting on this hasn't bothered to read my article; if (I'm guessing he) had, he would have seen that I am much, much more interested in seeing what the rebellion and the violence and trials afterwards say about the legal system than in making a judgment about Nat Turner. Anon's comment makes me look forward to Birth of a Nation even more than I did before, because obviously there's an important debate about how we should view Turner, the rebellion, and effect of his violence and that in the wake of the rebellion.
On further reflection, I want to add that Anon's veiled threat that I should be fired is exactly why tenure is still relevant. And let's just be clear: Anon is saying I should be fired because I have the audacity to talk about the trials in the wake of a rebellion. If it were up to Anon, I take it the only discussion we could have is that Nat Turner was a murderous thug. No discussion of the violence in the wake of the rebellion that put it down (which gave us the name Blackhead Signpost Road) -- or that resulted in some innocent slaves being killed. And I guess no discussion of the ways that the slave-owning society mobilized the legal system to protect slavery.
Further update: As of July 20, we have the cover art for the book. I've posted it above.