Sec. 3, Ch. 16 Coming to Grips with Injustice
Turnerís MessageóWatch & Pray: 1825-1828
Turnerís 1825 revelations made a decisive turn in his
spiritual life. His phrase "true knowledge of faith" signified that
his spiritual preparation had come to fruition. He was no longer just waiting,
wandering, wondering what to do. His new spiritual state gave him direction. The
mystery of Christ had been made known to him by the Spirit of God (Ephesians
Others have recognized the importance of 1825 from a martial and racial
perspective, but few have considered this period in terms of Turnerís
spiritual growth. F. Roy Johnson, however, did recognize that 1825 was an
important religious moment for Turner. For Johnson, Turnerís "made
perfect" meant that he had become a man "qualified to preach the word
of the Christian God" (The Nat Turner Slave Insurrection, p. 57).
Johnsonís estimation, however, comes by halves.
Turner did preach; he also exhorted. These two terms,
however, are distinctive. In the Methodist lexicon, they indicate a hierarchical
structuring or recognition of authority. In Jarena Leeís spiritual
autobiography, the author recalled a religious moment at Bethel AME in
Philadelphia during a sermon delivered by Rev. Richard Williams on Jonah 2.9 in
which he "lost the spirit."
I sprang, as by an altogether supernatural impulse, to my
feet, when I was aided from above to give an exhortation on the very text
which my brother Williams had taken.
I told them that I was like Jonah; for he had been then
nearly eight years since the Lord had called me to preach his gospel to the
fallen sons and daughters of Adamís race, but that I had lingered like
him, and delayed to go at the bidding of the Lord, and warn those who are as
deeply guilty as were the people of Ninevah (Andrews, p. 44)
In her exhortation, Lee revealed how these terms were used
spiritually to disinherit those called by God. Lee was allowed to exhort, but
not preach. Exhortation usually followed what was considered "true
preaching." Exhorters were limited "to pleas for close attention to
the message preached, repentance, and acceptance of the present opportunity for
salvation," according to William L. Andrews. "Exhorters were not
licensed to speak from or interpret a biblical text" (Sisters of the
Spirit, p. 239, note11).
In Turnerís Methodist Church of Cross Keys, Turner was not
allowed even to exhort. To license Turner to preach was beyond their Christian
reach. Lee was not able to preach because she was a woman.
To this it may be replied, by those who are determined
not to believe that it is right for a woman to preach, that the disciples,
though they were fishermen, and ignorant of letters too, were inspired so to
do. To which I would reply, that though they were inspired, yet that
inspiration did not save them from showing their ignorance of letters, and
of manís wisdom; thus the multitude found out, by listening to the remarks
of the envious Jewish priests. If then, to preach the gospel, by the gift of
heaven, comes by inspiration solely, is God straitened; must he take the man
Turner was denied a license because he was a slave. Christian
slaveholders refused to give him license to tell them how to interpret the
scriptures to instruct them in how to be a Christian. Cross Keysí Christian
slaveowners ignored Turnerís aspiration for ordination.
Limiting Turnerís identity, his life, by the use of such
terms as "preacher" or "exhorter," however, discourages a
full appreciation of Turnerís religious experience and his spirituality. For
Turner, preaching nor exhorting was an avocation or a career choice. Turner
received his authority from Christ and the Holy Spirit. Like Paul, in early
Christian tradition, Turner was a Christian apostle. His mission came not
through merely scripture or church body, but through the Master himself.
are, according to John W. Wenham, supporting K. H. Rengstorfís assertion,
"only two grounds for apostleship, an encounter with the risen Lord, and a
personal commission from him" (Christ and the Bible, p. 116). Turner
qualified on both accounts. In the 1825-1828 period, Turnerís mission was to
carry the good news of the "kingdom" to all who would hear and heed.
Turnerís Cross Keys religious message began as a millennial
one. That is, the Messiah would come again, and the righteous would
"inherit a renewed earth" in which all, living and dead "can
participate immediately in a heavenly world" here on earth. That is, an
elect will be given a second chance to live their lives again. This elect,
however, would operate on a different basis than that of Turnerís Methodist
Church. This "renewed earth" would include both free and slave, black
and white, to all who gave themselves to Jesus, to his humility and holiness.
God was going to set matters right, and soon.
Turnerís messianic appeal swayed many in Cross Keys. His
message was within the general tenor and religious talk of the times. In the
1820s and 1830s, Lyman Beecher and Charles Finney also moved American religious
thought toward the "prospect of millennial perfection" (OíLeary, pp.
94-95). By some reports, Turnerís popularity expanded beyond Cross Keys, that
he was the most popular preacher among the Christian blacks in the western
Tidewater. Given free rein and a horse by his mistress Sally Francis Moore,
Turner traveled according to legend into neighboring counties of North Carolina
and Virginia. After the Rebellion, additional reports had Turner preaching in
Petersburg and Richmond (Foner, pp. 27, 30).
Though short and dumpy, as Lerone Bennett pointed us, Nathaniel
Turner, however, was more than a simple-minded backwoods Negro preacher.
Clearly, Turner was no enlightened skeptic, no disbeliever, no bourgeois
nationalist. He may have been a "buddha-bellied" dreamer, as Bennett
described him (Before the Mayflower, pp. 118-125). Yet, from 1825
onwards, Turner told Gray, "the Holy Ghost was with me." Turnerís
physical features were irrelevant, for God is no "respecter of
persons." Nathaniel Turner was Godís messenger in the world, and the Cross Keys
blacks recognized God in him and responded to his message. For, according to
Turner, "they believed and said my wisdom came from God."
Though not grand in physical stature, Turner had charisma.
According to Jeffrey Burton Russell, "Charisma is an extraordinary talent,
understood as a divine gift that gives the bearer influence over others.
Charismatic leaders are able to motivate people to change their lifestyle and
beliefs radically. . . In order to be fully present in God, the soul must have
no interest in non-godly concerns: family, society, or wealth" (Colleen, p.
Thomas Gray and the "Confessions" provided evidence that Turner
possessed such a soul. In this manner was Turner "made perfect,"
arrived at Christian perfection. After his 1825 visions, the drudgery of farm
work slipped away. Every act and service for his master gained vitalized meaning
in the context of the "greater work" for his heavenly Master.
Nathaniel Turner had no bourgeois interest in wife and children, no
sentimental interest in family or prosperity. Turner, the prophet of God
Almighty, focused all his
energies, thereafter, on preserving and enhancing his intimate relationship with
the divine and the religious community he developed among the Cross Keys
Christian slaves. Turner made them feel the Spirit and yearn for the
"kingdom of heaven." All worldly cares or concerns about his personal
freedom fell away, like chaff from wheat. Jarena Lee also pointed out how the
Lord kept familial concerns from her mind so as not to be "diverted from
her work" (Andrews, p. 45). Thereafter, Turner lived fully in the spiritual
world of Christ, "behind the various masks he wore in public."
(Crites, pp. 237-238).
Because of Turnerís mask of piety and obedience, few, if
any, of the Elders of Turnerís Methodist Church feared any mischief would come
from his preaching and prophesying. In their estimation, Nat Turner, by example,
and by word, taught the new Methodist slave catechism of docility, obedience,
honesty, and hard work (Daniel, p. 344). Turner, however, wanted to break the
mind frame of his black listeners, broaden their horizons beyond bodily needs.
He insisted on the viability of another world, a more just Christian world than
the one they then experienced.
Turner emphasized a quest for salvation, here and
now. None had to settle for just crumbs from the masterís table, at least, not
in oneís heart. Faith and hope in Jesusí gospel offered a greater reward. By
his spiritual leadership and sacrifice, Turner brought many blacks closer to
authoring a true Christian worship in America. Together, they prayed for the
coming of the "kingdom." Next Chapter 17
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
NicolŠs Guillťn and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
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reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarcerationóbut her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Boisí
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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