The Legacies of Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Discovery of Nat Turner: Wood engraving illustrating Benjamin Phipps’s capture of Nat Turner (1800-1831) on October 30, 1831

Today marks the 212th birthday of Nat Turner, who was born in 1800. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831 was not the first, nor was it the last of its kind. The rebellion involved 56 slaves who killed 50 whites including women and children.  All of the slaves involved–including Turner–were executed and an estimated 100 to 200 innocent slaves were killed in retaliation by mobs and militias in the aftermath of the unsuccessful rebellion. While it did not have the success of the Haitian Revolution, the infamy of Amistad, or the influence of John Brown’s Raid, it has had a lasting influence on American education and politics.

As a direct result of the revolt was the passage of Virginia legislation that made it illegal to teach slaves, free blacks, or mixed race people to read or write.  Other Southern states passed similar laws restricting activities.  These Black Codes led to widespread illiteracy among slaves and free Blacks in the South. Even after emancipation in 1863, African Americans were disadvantaged by systematic legislative campaigns–including a lack of adequate funding, facilities, segregation and access to higher education–that worked to keep them uneducated. Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Hampton University and Saint Pauls College in Virginia were built to increase access to education for African Americans.

Despite the continued educational disadvantages in both funding and support, by 1900 a majority of southern Blacks achieved literacy. There are still challenges though, and groups like the Virginia Literacy Foundation are at work today to increase adult literacy rates. Another great way to encourage learning is to join your local Public Library.

by Michael Kosak

Leave a comment


  1. Zachi Rosenberg

     /  October 2, 2012

    A very interesting blog which can be developed into a much more in depth conversation and study.
    Zachi Rosenberg


  2. Nicole Johnson

     /  October 5, 2012

    It is amazing that there were so few slave rebellions in the United States. The correlation between rebellion and literacy in the African American community is interesting. It seems that the repercussions of the rebellion are still apparent today.


  3. Ian

     /  October 5, 2012

    It would be interesting to track state funding levels for programs aimed towards improving education among the African-American population, particularly if one compared the immediate post-emancipation years to today to see how much of a change in the level of funding (if any) has occurred.


  4. Thalma

     /  October 17, 2012

    In my opinion, this is a great story of It’s amazing how history shows us that the changes in the human behavior and ways of thinking happens through a lot of time and effort from different generations, not just in one battle or one strike. This is perfectly represented when you know the history of slavery that has existed since prehistoric times.
    This story is a great motivation for those who are not brave enough to fight for their freedom and their rights. It is true that these slaves failed in their mission and where killed, but if 100 years after they’re memorable fight and they’re heroism, their story is still being told to humanity and, in my opinion, it is worth dying for a causes that is still being remember 100 years later and serve as a motivation to other slaves to fight for their freedom.


  5. Robin

     /  October 19, 2012

    It is interesting to think about how these policies still reverberate today. When talking to friends who insist “everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, I reference policies like these which certainly prevented many people from reaching their full potential. Great to bring this to light.


  6. Meghan

     /  October 23, 2012

    The right to education is one of the most basic of human rights. Taking away these rights is a crime against humanity, which goes to show the depth of the fear of the local militia. In fact, universal education is the second of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals, slated to be completed by 2015. For more information on how the goals are intending to combat global poverty, please visit:



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