Amid Confederate Statue Controversy, Slave Uprising Leader Nat Turner Included on Richmond Monument

Nat Turner, the leader of a bloody slave uprising, is going to be included on an anti-slavery monument in Richmond, Virginia—the former capital of the Confederacy.

A state commission voted on Wednesday for Turner to be among the 10 African-American figures added to the monument. As a panel of judges and historians deliberated over a list of 30 finalists, Turner was the only figure that generated a particularly heated conversation due to his bloody legacy, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reports

Some see Turner as a hero who sought to liberate the enslaved, while others view him as a murderer who made life for slaves in the South even more difficult. These diverging perceptions were at the heart of the debate over including him on the monument in Richmond. 

“If nothing else, he’s the bravest black man in that era. It’s problematic for me as a black man in modern-day society to stand up sometimes. I can’t imagine the courage that Nat Turner had," said Charles Withers, a member of the state commission from Roanoke who was a strong proponent of adding Turner to the monument.

Lauranett Lee, a professor at the University of Richmond and the founding curator of African-American history at the Virginia Historical Society, was opposed to including Turner, however, due to the fact women and children were killed during his revolt. 

The decision to add an anti-slavery monument to Richmond comes amid a broader national debate over removing Confederate monuments from U.S. cities—including in the Virginia capital. Discussions over the anti-slavery monument are occurring apart from the city of Richmond's reconsideration of its Confederate monuments, according to the Times Dispatch.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission—the commission that decided to include Turner on the monument — was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1992 to "honor the memory and legacy" of the famously nonviolent civil rights leader. 

Turner, who was also a preacher, led the deadliest slave revolt in U.S. history in August 1831. 

Over two days, Turner and a small army of slaves armed with axes, hatchets, knives and muskets killed 55 white people in Southhampton, Virginia. The group freed slaves along the way. 

Turner hoped to seize an armory to continue the rebellion. But the slave-preacher's plan was foiled by the local militia. Turner was eventually caught and hanged. The revolt struck fear in the hearts of whites and led to violent retribution against both slaves and free black people throughout the South.  

Despite differences in opinion on Turner, those in favor of adding him to the monument won the day. 

Other selections for the monument include Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Dred Scott, William Harvey Carney, John Mercer Langston, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, Lucy F. Simms, Rosa Dixon Bowser and John Mitchell Jr.

The statue will be erected in downtown Richmond by 2019 on land leased to a local advocacy group, Venture Richmond, which has reportedly asked the state commission for $80,000 to move a sculpture that's already there. 

The Virginia General Assembly has set aside $500,000 for the anti-slavery monument, which is expected to cost $800,000 in total. The remainder of the costs reportedly will be covered with private funds. 

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