Nat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory

By Kenneth S. Greenberg | Go to book overview

FIVE
Symptoms of Liberty and Blackhead Signposts
David Walker and Nat Turner
VINCENT HARDING

I speak Americans for your good. We must and shall be free…in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children, but God will deliver us from under you. And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting.

David Walker, 1829

I heard a loud voice in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to meandsaid…I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons…forthe time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first.

Nat Turner, 1831

There was much about America in the 1820s that made it possible for white men and women, especially in the North, to live as if no river of struggle were slowly, steadily developing its black power beneath the rough surfaces of the new nation. Indeed, the newness itself, the busyness, the almost frenetic sense of movement and building which seized America, were all part of the comfortable cloud of unknowing that helped preserve a white sense of unreality. Nor was the incessant movement of the majority simply imagined. Every day hundreds of families were actually uprooting themselves from the more settled areas of the East and seeking their fortunes beyond the Appalachians, even beyond the Mississippi

This essay is a chapter in Vincent Harding, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (Harcourt, Inc., 1981).

-79-

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