Nat Turner’s 1831 Rebellion Was the Preface for Black August

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Every February growing up, I remember my all white schools celebrating Black History Month by replaying news clips from the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech. I vividly remember the year I had read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and I asked my social studies teacher why we were not watching and documentaries on Malcolm X, nor the Black Panther Party, and he said, “Criminals ruined the way for the good Black people who had a chance.”

This year, with the pandemic highlighting the dozens of high profile civilian murders by police officers, Black August has been commemorated by activists and news outlets more than ever before.

Black August started in 1970 to remember political prisoner and author George Jackson who was murdered in a rebellion in a California prison. Multiple political movements and moments in history happened in August that are included in the celebration of the cult holiday. However, the biggest rebellion on American soil also happened in August, several decades before George Jackson’s prison rebellion.

August 21-23 1831 marks the making of what is now known as Nat Turner’s Rebellion. In the middle of a summer night, an enslaved preacher named Nat Turner led a revolt in Southampton, VA. He and several other enslaved people staged a rebellion and planned an escape to Jerusalem, VA. They murdered sixty or so white slave owners in what the papers called a “horrible massacre.”

Can we all agree that the horrible massacre was at the hands of white people? There were millions of Black Africans who were kidnapped from the shores of Africa and thrown overboard when they died en route it to America. Those bodies rarely made the news.

So in honor of Black August do not forget the original summertime hero: General Nat Turner.