Two Nat Turner Tours

I haven’t had much to say concerning the new movie about Nat Turner called Birth of a Nation. To be completely honest, I almost fell asleep when I saw it on opening day. I don’t want to get into pointing out the numerous problems with its historical foundation as others have already done so. What it comes down to for me is that it just wasn’t a very good movie. It was the same feeling I had when I saw Pearl Harbor. You know how the movie is going to end and you can’t wait for it to arrive.

Rather than review the movie, my latest piece at The Daily Beast explores efforts in Southampton County, Virginia to interpret Nat Turner and the events of 1831 for the first time. Back in February and March I interviewed a couple of people who are working with the Southampton County Historical Society in connection with these efforts and one individual, who you will meet in the essay, who offers a very different tour.

My next essay for TDB will elaborate on a brief post from the other day in which the SCV announced its plans to build a new museum to the Confederacy in Elm Springs, Tennessee. Stay tuned.

Click here for my other essays at The Daily Beast.

3 comments… add one
  • Of course a movie aimed at creating more racial strife would have no appeal to me. A slave massacring what’s is not something to promote.

  • Kevin,

    Very thought-provoking column. Good job.

    So, if we take Khalifah’s point to its logical conclusion, where do we stop? Does it mean that only women can write about feminist or gender studies? Can I write about Ida Tarbell’s viewpoint on women’s suffrage since I’m a man and never had to experience being denied the right to vote? Will Jews be the only ones allowed to write about the Holocaust? Could a case be made that only Jews who suffered through the Holocaust are equipped to write about it, given that anyone who didn’t experience it can’t understand it? What about non-Jewish survivors? Who is qualified to write their history?

    To call Styron’s novel a “fabrication” is nonsense, given that it had always been presented as a work of fiction. Styron, who was a dogged and meticulous researcher (Sophie’s Choice details more history about the Holocaust than many non-fiction counterparts), faced sharp criticism of the work when it was published given his own southern background and the critical culture at the time it appeared. Given that there is precious little known about Turner, I would be interested to know what “settled facts” are being distorted? Visiting his website, I’m not surprised that Khalifah continues on that path, but to segregate his tours seems to me to promote further misunderstanding of the story. Of course, he is free to interpret the story as he wishes and as he understands it, but if he was truly serious about wanting white America to get the story right, he is going about it the wrong way. By not inviting everyone to participate, he comes across more as a stilted ideologue than someone who is seeking the truth.

    All this is not to say that white historians haven’t missed the mark in how they have interpreted our country’s past, but for anyone to suggest that the only proper way to write history is to let it come from those who fit a particular racial or socio-economic profile is shortsighted, and quite honestly, offensive.


    • Hi Rob,

      I find his position to be problematic as well for some of the reasons you referenced. On the other hand, it is clear that trust is an issue. It took me some time just to convince Khalifah to agree to an interview. I am glad that he did and I am confident that with more attention on the ground in Southampton County he may open up a bit more to talking and working with others.


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