October 2

322 BCE - 1831 CE

The first date records the death of Aristotle, at the age of 62. Himelf a student of Plato, though he came to disagree with his master on most subjects, he became the teacher of Alexander of Macedon (see October 1), that ultimate model for all would-be empire-builders, political, religious and corporate. Amongst this latter group must be included Saladin, who captured Jerusalem today in 1187, and Richard Crookback (Richard III), who was born today in 1452 (I do not regard failure, not even the failure to build so small an empire as that of Little England, as a reason to exclude a man; art may be a verdict, but empire is always first and last an ambition).

The list must also, therefore, include Peter II of Russia, born into Empire this day in 1715; Francis Hopkinson, the US lawyer and writer who designed imperialism's modern logo, the Stars and Stripes, and who was born this day in 1737; add further Paul von Hindenburg (born on this day 1847), the President of Kaiser Wilhelm's modern Germany; Ferdinand Foch (born this day 1851), the generalissimo of the Allied armies in the 1st world war; Marthinus Steyn (born this day 1857), the President of the Orange Free State; Mahatma Gandhi (born this day 1869), who did what Nat Turner did, but peacefully, and with considerably more success, which was to help in the overthrow of empire. No doubt there were many others, from both sides of empire's trenches, but these are the names which history has taken the trouble to record. Aristotle, incidentally, died of indigestion. This fact would no doubt have amused Groucho Marx, who built a very different sort of empire, that of global laughter, and was born this day in 1890.

And did you ask: who on Earth was Nat Turner? And then: why wasn't I taught about him at school? Born in Virginia on this day in 1800, he it was who, at the age of 31, sought the defeat of empire by staging the most significant act of slave rebellion since Spartacus (alas, they both failed).

I would take great delight in telling Nat Turner's story in full, but I'm not sure this is a song a white man from England should be singing, however sympathetic he may be, however much he may regard himself as a Brother in Babylon. And Reef The Lost Cauze tells it so much better than I could anyway.

Lyrics below. Link to the audio here:

"This song," - Reef's words, taken from here - "is based on Nat Turner. An African-American slave who led a slave rebellion of slaves and freed blacks in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831 that resulted in 60 white deaths":-

Here I stand, a man not free
Whip markers on my back, shackles on both feet
Picking cotton in the stone heat
Played along my soul keep for one day he came and told me
In the year of 1831 I awoke at dawn
To see his vision in the sun
It seemed that the clouds parted tippling off his tongue
And he said "My son, the revolution has begun"
And with that, I knew the message was clear
We'll kill the suppressor who kept us in prison for years
Raped our women in laughter and tears
Made us build their meal while they sit back in their chairs
Late night, I chat with my peers, we build weapons
No guns, we must slice them from neck to the ears
With spears, so they can hear
The pain of the people who are God's creation, not theirs
I'm the one that they don't teach you in class about
I'm the one who ran up in the master's house
Put a knife to his neck and then gagged his mouth
Charged him for black murder, I'm Nat Turner

Through the darkness, we march like hellions
They called it a massacre, I call a rebellion
We moved quickly, with no time to spare
Blood loss, leave no life to spare
Women and children neither
After we freed our brothers we burned down the house to ensure no survivors
A horseback we rode, blood dripping from the hooves
Head out 'till dawn, resist in the woods
Then we attack again, ravish them
The braids slashed against the master's plastic skin
The murder was so passionate
Screaming to the heavens, we would never ever go back again
Word began to spread, up the violent mall
That wolf walked the wicked into the side of God
This was where the demise begins
It was written in my tan, we all need to come to a violent end


After two days of non-stop action we rested
In the back-roads of a [?], you got hit by the night crescent
It was here I began to fight my confessions
Before I knew it was only a matter of time 'fore they catch us
A house nigga got scared, ran to the county building
Told them our whereabouts, then they beat him 'till they killed him
In the starry night I saw the flames from the distance
Attacked us while we slept, but this time we're different
We fought back
But the slaves told me the revolution would only stop if they caught Nat
So again on horseback I rode, negate the chase
Caught up with me eventually, had to face fate
They hung me, kept my head as a souvenir
Beat slaves to death as they were consumed with fear
You got the uprising of blacks on happening, and attack further
Because of the name Nat Turner

Amber pages:

Graham Greene, novelist, born today in 1904

Jan (James) Morris, travel writer, born today in 1926

Don McLean, singer and songwriter,born today in 1945

Today in 1535, Jacques Cartier landed at what was then called Hochelaga but is now Montreal

And today in 1950, the comic strip "Peanuts" was first published

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