Nat Turner preaches religion. Image Credit: The Granger Collection, New York
Whites throughout the American South were traumatized in the summer of 1831 by a bloody slave revolt led by Nat Turner, a man his fellow slaves called “The Prophet.” By all accounts, Turner was an intelligent but peculiar man. Although education for slaves was widely outlawed, he taught himself to read as a young child and pored over the Bible. He often avoided people and spent much time fasting, praying, and preaching to other slaves. Turner believed he received visions from God—one vision instructed him to be an instrument of revenge against whites for their wicked ways.
Maybe you missed it, or perhaps you weren’t yet born. But imagine for just a moment that you’d made the trip from Seattle, Washington, to Max Yasgur’s Bethel, New York, farm in the late summer of 1969. You were one of the half-million people attending the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. One of your traveling companions embarked on the trip to protest the war in Vietnam. Another tagged along for the three-day party. You however came for the music. And moreover, you’d endured three hungry days of rain, long Porta-John lines, and National Guard rations for this singular moment. The opening riff to Jimi Hendrix’s “Message to Love” brings you out of your tent, and onto your feet. He’s your hometown hero. His white Fender Stratocaster, manufactured for a right-handed player, is strung upside-down for his deft left-handed manipulation. He’s working the fret-board furiously with long, spindly fingers. And just then, you flash back.
In his highly regarded 2006 Yale Book of Quotations, Yale law librarian Fred Shapiro gives on page 649 the following source for the phrase “lunatic fringe”:
The lunatic fringe was fully in evidence, especially in the rooms devoted to the Cubists and Futurists, or Near-Impressionists. (Outlook, 29 Mar. 1913)
This, along with a usage in Roosevelt’s Autobiography (1913), represents the earliest known use of the phrase lunatic fringe.
Shapiro therein follows the entries for “lunatic fringe” found in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 17th edition (2002), the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations, 2nd edition (2002), and the Dictionary of Quotations by Bergen Evans (1968), and perhaps other of the numerous quotation dictionaries.
[This article by the late Clifford J. Doerksen—who presented "bad news from the past" in his dark and witty blog, The Hope Chest—appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Readex Report. A brilliant historian and critic, Cliff died unexpectedly last month at the age of 47. Remembrances from his many fans and friends can be found at the Chicago Reader. ]
African American Newspapers, 1827-1998. Readex. ISBN For academic libraries, Readex offers a one-time tiered purchase price with an annual maintenance fee. 48-2437 [Internet Resource] URL: http://www.readex.com/