Revisiting Rebellion: Nat Turner in the American Imagination

(October 2016)

Using print and manuscript collections at the American Antiquarian Society and the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, this exhibition explores portrayals of Turner in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Depictions often reveal less about who Turner was and more about the zeitgeist in which a given Turner was created. The bookends of this exhibition are the two “confessions”: one from 1831 and the other from 1967 when William Styron created the most controversial version of Turner to date. These works, as well as a sampling of Turner portrayals in the 136 years in between, are classified into six categories suggesting the range of characterizations of this controversial figure. Works might characterize Turner a number of ways that contradict one another as they imagine, in the words of Kenneth Greenberg, “the most famous, least-known person in American history.”

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