Nat Turner is a name synonymous with bravery and power. He became famous as the leader of a slave revolt in 1831, the bloodiest and most prolonged of its kind in all of American history.
There is a variety of literature recounting his iconic legacy. Most recently, the slave's story was depicted on the silver screen in the film The Birth of a Nation.
Amidst nationwide controversy about Confederacy and slave-related monuments, Virginia has decided to honor Turner by including him in an anti-slavery monument consisting of 10 other honorees (both pre- and post-emancipation era) who “advanced the cause of freedom.”
According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission voted on the decision to include Turner on Wednesday. The statue, which will consist of two bronze statues of anonymous slaves, is scheduled to be erected on Brown’s Island by 2019.
“If nothing else, he’s the bravest black man in that era,” said Charles Withers, a commission member from Roanoke who pushed for Turner’s inclusion. “It’s problematic for me as a black man in modern-day society to stand up sometimes. I can’t imagine the courage that Nat Turner had.”
However, Turner's inclusion has come with controversy.
University of Richmond professor Lauranett Lee believes that Turner's revolt negatively affected innocent women and children who were not involved in Turner’s revolt, which he believed was a call from God. Lee cited about 60 people who were killed before Turner was caught and executed by hanging.
“We have two people who have spoken against having Nat Turner on the monument,” Lee said. “Ultimately, what did Nat Turner’s actions do?”
The Library of Virginia director of education and outreach, Gregg Kimball, shares Lee's concerns, due to Turner’s interview with attorney Thomas R. Gray, who then went on to write the popular book The Confessions of Nat Turner.
“The only account we have of what he was thinking was written by a white man who interviewed him,” noted Kimball. “And there’s a lot of controversy about what any of that means.”
“My support for him is based upon the fact that this is an individual who carried out his opposition to the institution of slavery,” said Senator Mamie E. Locke. “People were talking about how happy folks were on these plantations; there was no resistance to the institution. And he begged to differ.”
The other honorees set to be included in the monument are: Gabriel Prosser, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Dred Scott, William Harvey Carney, John Mercer Langston, Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, Lucy F. Simms, Rosa Dixon Bowser and John Mitchell, Jr.