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Nat Turner

A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory

Edited by Kenneth S. Greenberg

Publication Date - October 2004

ISBN: 9780195177565

312 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $29.99

A companion to the PBS documentary Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property


Nat Turner's name rings through American history with a force all its own. Leader of the most important slave rebellion on these shores, variously viewed as a murderer of unarmed women and children, an inspired religious leader, a fanatic--this puzzling figure represents all the terrible complexities of American slavery. And yet we do not know what he looked like, where he is buried, or even whether Nat Turner was his real name.
In Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory, Kenneth S. Greenberg gathers twelve distinguished scholars to offer provocative new insight into the man, his rebellion, and his time, and his place in history. The historians here explore Turner's slave community, discussing the support for his uprising as well as the religious and literary context of his movement. They examine the place of women in his insurrection, and its far-reaching consequences (including an extraordinary 1832 Virginia debate about ridding the state of slavery). Here are discussions of Turner's religious visions--the instructions he received from God to kill all of his white oppressors. Louis Masur places him against the backdrop of the nation's sectional crisis, and Douglas Egerton puts his revolt in the context of rebellions across the Americas. We trace Turner's passage through American memory through fascinating interviews with William Styron on his landmark novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, one of the "ten black writers" of the 1960s who bitterly attacked Styron's vision of Turner. Finally, we follow Nat Turner into the world of Hollywood.
Nat Turner has always been controversial, an emblem of the searing wound of slavery in American life. This book offers a clear-eyed look at one of the best known and least understood figures in our history.

About the Author(s)

Kenneth Greenberg is Distinguished Professor and Chair of the History Department at Suffolk University. His books include Masters and Statesmen: The Political Culture of American Slavery and Honor and Slavery: Lies, Duels, Noses, Masks, Dressing as a Woman, Gifts, Strangers, Humanitarianism, Death, Slave Rebellions, the Proslavery Argument, Baseball, Hunting and Gambling in the Old South. He is the editor of The Confessions of Nat Turner.


"[A] dedicated effort by historians to unearth the rich particulars from which historical memory is created."--Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Offer[s] new insight into the man, his rebellion and his time."--Publishers Weekly

"An eclectic collection of perspectives about Nat Turner and his rebellion."--Times Literary Supplement

"An illuminating stew of antebellum Southern history, ethnic relations, and contemporary social literature."--Kirkus Reviews

"Informed by much new work on the context of slave life and rebellion, an understanding of African American folk and literary texts, and improved methods of psychobiography. No single vision of Nat Turner or meaning for his rebellion emerges, but all the essays repay several readings and remind us how central understanding of him is to any hope of getting hold of slavery's place in the American mind and conscience."--Library Journal

"With the prospects of terror so much on our minds, the publication of this fascinating collection is especially appropriate. Kenneth Greenberg's engrossing introduction and the essays that follow explore from nearly every interpretive angle the dramatic events of Southampton County, Virginia (1831). The authors illustrate how a deep, incandescent loathing of slavery and desire for freedom led the visionary Turner and his slave band to slaughter white civilians, young and old, an effort that prompted equally terroristic vengeance by an outraged, frightened slaveholding population. Moral ambiguities abound, and the reader is compelled to ponder the tragedy of American race relations in a most profound way."--Bertram Wyatt-Brown, University of Florida

"Nat Turner is no longer merely villain or hero in American memory. This splendid collection of scholarly essays and remembrances offers the most thorough understanding we have yet had of this pivotal slave rebel. We can see Turner here from multiple perspectives: historical, moral, psychological, literary, and especially the politics of memory and race."--David W. Blight, Yale University

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