It has been said that one person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist. Still, I am baffled by anyone who makes a hero out of Nat Turner, who led a band of black slaves on a bloody rampage in Southampton County, Va., on Aug. 22, 1831.

Like John Brown, whom J. Randolph Watson also eulogizes in his Sept. 4 letter, Nat Turner found religious justification for wanton murder. John Brown led six men, including four of his sons, to a cabin of a pro-slavery man named James Doyle at Pottawatomie Creek, Kan., in 1856. Announcing that they were the "Northern Army," Brown's party killed Mr. Doyle and two of his sons with broadswords, sparing the youngest son because of the pleas of Mr. Doyle's wife. Brown murdered two more pro-slavery settlers that night, although none was a slave owner.

Nat Turner began his uprising by murdering Joseph Travers, his owner, (although Turner later said he had "no cause to complain of his treatment of me") and Mr. Travers's wife and three children in their beds. The murderers returned to kill the Travers's infant after overlooking him at first. The body count of the Turner raid included 23 children, a school class of 10 and their teacher, four daughters, a son and a grandchild of another family, and three children and a mother of yet another family. Fifty-five to 58 white people were killed in all. The Turner raid led to an equally barbarous retribution by whites.

There are many African American heroes: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Dubois come to mind. What would Martin Luther King Jr. say about the slaughter of innocents, no matter how great the provocation to fight the evil of slavery?


Harrisonburg, Va.