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Gabriel’s Revolt An American Uprising

“Gabriel’s Revolt,” a film about an African-led insurrection against slavery in 1800 produced by NOVA students, faculty and staff is set to make its television premiere.

Gabriel Prosser was a literate enslaved blacksmith who planned a large slave rebellion in Richmond, Va., in the summer of 1800. Information regarding the revolt was leaked prior to its execution, leading to the hanging of Prosser and 25 followers. In reaction, Virginia and other state legislatures passed restrictions on free blacks, prohibiting the education, assembly, and hiring out of slaves to restrict their chances of learning and planning similar rebellions.

“We decided to make this film because we wanted to show that people weren’t content to be slaves. Like everybody else, they wished to be free,” said Dr. Jimmie McClellan, who has been working on this passion project for eight years. “Gabriel’s story went untold for many, many years because the south didn’t want to admit that there were people like Gabriel Prosser or Nat Turner who they would use force to resist an institution that was immoral.”

“The story and the courage of Gabriel is an inspiration to all Americans,” said Sah Ara SAnkh Ab Sanu-t, a NOVA staff member who acted in the film. “I think looking at the interdisciplinary efforts from staff and students; seeing that painstaking work coming to fruition is beautiful.”

To both Dr. McClellan, dean of liberal arts at NOVA’s Alexandria Campus, and Sanu-t, historical accuracy was equally important as telling the story itself. “There was a great reward in making sure that we told the story correctly and the effort that we put into looking at the court documents, collaborating with local historians, going to the key sites, and getting the costumes correct. We wanted this story, the story of Gabriel, to reach as many individuals as possible,” said Sanu-t.

“Virginia is the place in America where most of our early history happened. We are fortunate to have so many sites around that. Visiting gives you a third dimension of history. It’s not like reading it in a book,” said Dr. McClellan. “To be able to imagine what they might’ve looked like over 200 years in wanting his freedom and freedom for all slaves—visiting those sites was an electric moment. Standing there and seeing those things and being able to film this documentary and the sites was a very special thing.”

“Gabriel’s Revolt” will air on Friday, Aug. 2 at 8:30 p.m. on WETA TV 26.

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Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.

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