Interesting turn going on in Virginia as noted by Josh Marshall (Shock and Awe: Nat Turner and the Old Dominion). As we all know there’s a lot of statues honoring the insurgents that fought against our flag for the continuation of slavery. To the extent we honor the fighters for civil rights, in this country, they’re almost exclusively the non-violent activists like Rosa Parks and MLK. A statue “honoring” the leader of a very bloody slave rebellion would be new.
A state commission in Virginia is planning an anti-slavery monument which will be built in downtown Richmond, specifically on Brown’s Island. So far, nothing terribly remarkable. But one of the 10 figures to be honored in the monument is Nat Turner, who led the largest and deadliest slave rebellion in United States’ history in 1831….
If such actions, which are normally among the worst we can imagine, merit praise and public honor, the system they were meant to fight and destroy must have been barbaric and unconscionably violent beyond imagining. Very few of us would contest this description of slavery. But bringing Turner into the discussion of public commemoration will air these issues in a new (I think very positive) and jarring way.
Indeed. Is a statue by itself a de facto honoring of the person depicted or merely a rendering of history like a diorama in a museum? That question holds for those of the insurgents as well? What’s the context of the work?
Whether Turner is even a positive figure in history is debatable, but that’s the point – anything that gets people thinking and talking and learning about that period and our history of race relations is absolutely positive.
That is until the Nazis riot in protest and someone gets killed.