In Charleston’s rich history, there are few names, when spoken, provoke feelings of considerable reverence, while simultaneously provoking mass indignation. In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a free black man, planned a slave revolt that alarmed the city of Charleston, causing him, along with 34 other co-conspirators, to hang publicly. 37 others were banished, four whites fined, and the church, in which Vesey inspired the spirit of insurrection and aspiration of freedom, was destroyed.
While some consider Vesey’s efforts terroristic. However, those with a real understanding of history and the perverse climate of terror under which enslaved Africans and African Americans were force to live, consider Vesey an inspiration and freedom fighter. With each monument erected to celebrate the legacy of Vesey, pushback and repudiation have followed. A painting to honor Vesey in the Gaillard Auditorium was ripped from the wall, to be later returned, and the construction of a statue in Hampton Park was met with great opposition.
Local filmmaker Jason Gourdine is the co-founder of Charleston based, digital media company, Black Collective. Accustomed to addressing societal issues involving race through film Gourdine took on the task of telling the story of Denmark Vesey in his next project. “The story of Denmark Vesey is too important to shy away from fear of opposition.” Gourdine, a native of Moncks Corner, South Carolina wasn’t introduced to Denmark Vesey until his matriculation at Morris College, a historically black college in Sumter, South Carolina.
“While my parents instilled in me a proud legacy of my African ancestry, my working knowledge of slavery was learned through imagery seen through TV and films and what was taught to me in public school, which generally showed our ancestors in a docile, submissive posture, unwilling and unable to break their chains of oppression.” He went on to say, “When I learned of the strategic genius of Denmark Vesey, his ability to organize and inspire the masses…while risking his own personal freedom…As a filmmaker, I find it irresponsible to allow another generation to be deprived of the strength and resourcefulness of their ancestors in their early years of maturation and their development of self-awareness.”
Gourdine’s film follows the story of Vesey and his co-conspirators. It also includes a local historian’s take on Charleston’s role in 19th century slavery and an original soundtrack from local, Charleston-based artist. The project is currently scheduled to premiere June 16th to commemorate the planned date of the insurrection.