People's Drama, Inc. presents Nat Turner by Paul Peters
Nat Turner, a play in three acts, was written in 1940 by leftist playwright Paul Peters. In this highly fictionalized—and controversial—account, Turner lives in the Dismal Swamp, which is historically inaccurate, while his wife and son still live on their owner’s farm. Turner wants to escape north but he is pushed, instead, by a white Northern peddler to organize a revolt. The man tells him that white abolitionists will help. Turner, to whom the peddler gave a copy of William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper Liberator, explains to his companions, “Liberator—means “Free the slaves.” White folk do that. They help us.” However, dissension in his ranks crushes the revolt and Turner goes back to the swamp. Once again, the peddler finds him in his hiding place and lets him know that his revolt has stirred passion in the North. Turner then gives himself up. The play opened on December 6, 1950 in New York. Prominent African-American artist and art professor Charles W. White illustrated the poster.
Nat Turner, which can be interpreted as another iteration of the “white savior” theme or as a liberal hope for a multiracial alliance, was revived in 1960. Attempting to link history with current events The Militant, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party wrote in its November 14 issue: “Urge your organization to take a block of tickets. To help spread the truth about the Civil War is not unconnected with the struggle for racial equality today.”
People's Drama, Inc. presents Nat Turner by Paul Peters. Photographs and Prints Division. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.