Black August: Nat Turner Led Slave Revolt

By Tracey Onyenacho Aug 21, 2020

The Black August series highlights historical events that remind us of the legacy of Black radical tradition. Black August is a month that holds space for political education and study of Black history, resilience, and resistance. Black August was started by incarcerated people in the 1970s after the death of George Jackson and August was chosen for its significance in many important dates in Black struggle.

Nat Turner, an enslaved minister who knew how to read and write, led one of the most memorable slave revolts in United States history. Guided by a divine premonition, Nat Turner and about 75 enslaved and free people rebelled against slavery and Virginia’s plantation system. In the rebellion, 50 white people were killed in Southhampton County as Nat Turner and his people went from house to house, plantation to plantation. Word spread quickly to white folks about the killings. 

Turner and his people reached a close-by town, Jerusalem on August 22 and attempted to kill a white family on a plantation. They were bombarded by white militia as well as state and federal troops who captured a few of them and killed one enslaved person while the others, including Turner, escaped. The white mobs also murdered 200 Black people in Southhampton County and throughout Virginia in response to the rebellion. More than 50 Black people involved in the rebellion were sentenced to execution by judges who were also slaveowners.

Nat Turner evaded capture up until October 30 when he was found hiding near his white enslaver’s house. He was imprisoned in county jail where he confessed about the sign he received from God to free Black people from bondage. Turner was later sentenced to execution, hanged, and skinned on November 11. 

His rebellion inspired white abolitionists to push forth legislation for the emancipation of slaves which was rejected. Virginia later passed laws that made teaching Black folks how to read and write illegal. 

Even though some may deem Nat Turner’s slave revolt as unsuccessful, it was successful in showing that Black people have always resisted their enslavement and would seek to be free by any means necessary.