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Greg Spin

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BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 06: Michael B. Jordan participates in the Hollywood talent agencies march to support Black Lives Matter protests on June 06, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Nat Turner’s Revolt, August 1831:

In August 1831, Nat Turner struck fear into the hearts of white Southerners by leading the only effective slave rebellion in U.S. history. Born on a small plantation in Southampton County, Virginia, Turner inherited a passionate hatred of slavery from his African–born mother and came to see himself as anointed by God to lead his people out of bondage.

In early 1831, Turner took a solar eclipse as a sign that the time for revolution was near, and on the night of August 21, he and a small band of followers killed his owners, the Travis family, and set off toward the town of Jerusalem, where they planned to capture an armory and gather more recruits. The group, which eventually numbered around 75 Black people, killed some 60 white people in two days before armed resistance from local white people and the arrival of state militia forces overwhelmed them just outside Jerusalem. Some 100 enslaved people, including innocent bystanders, lost their lives in the struggle. Turner escaped and spent six weeks on the run before he was captured, tried and hanged.

Oft–exaggerated reports of the insurrection—some said that hundreds of white people had been killed—sparked a wave of anxiety across the South. Several states called special emergency sessions of the legislature, and most strengthened their codes in order to limit the education, movement and assembly of enslaved people. While supporters of slavery pointed to the Turner rebellion as evidence that Black people were inherently inferior barbarians requiring an institution such as slavery to discipline them, the increased repression of southern Black people would strengthen anti–slavery feeling in the North through the 1860s and intensify the regional tensions building toward civil war.