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Monarchs Making Smithsonian Roadtrip to See Nat Turner Bible

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Wendy Porter knows she'll cry.

Porter is a proud alum and an adjunct faculty member in Old Dominion University's Department of Women's Studies. And she couldn't be more excited to join a bus-full of Monarchs to a new museum in Washington to see a priceless national artifact - one that she brought to school for show and tell when she was in elementary school.

For generations, Porter's family had a Bible owned by Nat Turner, who was killed after leading a slave rebellion in southeastern Virginia in 1831.

The Bible, which has been authenticated through DNA as having belonged to Turner, was donated by Porter's family to Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened last year.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, a bus will depart Old Dominion at 7:45 a.m. bound for the museum. The trip, organized by the Office of Intercultural Relations, will afford 55 Old Dominion students a chance to experience the museum and learn about the ODU connection to the Bible.

Porter said she's sure she will be overcome with emotion when she enters the museum, which has been wildly popular since opening last fall. She also knows that donating Nat Turner's Bible was the right thing for her family to do.

"We always knew that the Bible didn't belong with us. It had a story to tell, and it needed a platform," she said.

Jasmine Omorogbe, associate director for intercultural activities in the Office of Intercultural Relations and head of the planning committee for the trip, said more than 300 students applied for seats on the bus. The students were required to write an essay to be selected.

"Some of the students selected to take part might not even know who Nat Turner is, or might not know a lot about him. But his story is important to the history of America, and connected to this region as well," Omorogbe said.

Other sponsors of the trip include Programs All Weekend of ODU's Office of Leadership and Student Involvement; the ODU Women's Center, and Housing and Residence Life.

Johnny Young, associate vice president of the Division of Student Engagement & Enrollment Services, said that as an educational opportunity, it's hard to top this experience.

"This museum is so chock-full of the history and culture of America, it will resonate with students of all backgrounds," Young said. "The opportunity to see history, and know it's evolving, is such an important part of the learning process."

Nat Turner himself has undergone a rehabilitation by history, no longer viewed merely as a murderous villain. Porter is thankful he is remembered today as someone who died fighting for the freedom of his people.

That is part of the lesson she'll teach on the bus trip up to the museum.

"He fought for what he believed in, freedom, and was prepared to die for that. I'm honored to be able to help him be remembered that way," Porter said.

After they return, students will take part in a discussion about the trip on Feb. 20 in Webb University Center.

Omorogbe said the discussion will be an important part of the trip, which itself is the centerpiece event of Black History Month celebrations at Old Dominion University. "Our understanding of events like this is constantly evolving, and reflection is such an important part of the process for all of us," she said.

Turner, a slave in Southampton County, led a rebellion in 1831, which resulted in the deaths of several dozen white people. Turner was captured two months later, put on trial and hanged.

Porter told The Virginian-Pilot that Lavinia Francis, the great-grandmother of her stepfather, Maurice Person, had been hidden by house slaves the night Turner led his rebellion through the area. Person went undetected. Years after Turner's trial, officials at the Southampton County Courthouse offered the Bible, which had been confiscated upon his capture, to Person's father, Walter. The keepsake was a family heirloom for decades.

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