Now that Will Smith’s film Emancipation is out in theaters, the movie, which is based on a true story finds the actor portraying ‘Whipped Peter,” who escapes from slavery in Louisiana and goes on to live a life of resilience and influence.
The historical action drama is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One particular image known as “The Scourged Back,” which vividly shows Peter’s bare back mutilated with raised welts and marks given by a whipping ultimately ignites a fire for the white public’s resistance to slavery.
Emancipation is directed by Antoine Fuqua and also stars Charmaine Bingwa, Gilbert Owuor, Aaron Moten, Michael Luwoye, Mustafa Shakir, and more.
With the movie also heading to the Apple TV+ streaming platform on Friday (Dec. 9) here are five things to know about ‘Whipped Peter.’
He escaped his owners John and Bridget Lyons
Born on a 3,000-acre Louisiana plantation, ‘Whipped Peter’, whose real name was Gordon, endured a brutal whipping that almost took his life and decided to escape the plantation that held him and 40 other people in slavery. He covered his scent from bloodhound dogs that were chasing him by rubbing onions on his body. And fled for more than 40 miles over 10 days before reaching Union soldiers in Baton Rouge.
He joined the Union Army
After the Emancipation Proclamation allowed freed slave to enroll into the military forces, Peter joined the Union Army as a guide. He then exposed his scars during a medical examination, the image of the raised welts on his back was one of many catalysts of the abolition movement.
The scars on his back were of the many catalysts of the abolition movement
After joining the Union Army, Peter exposed the raised welts and marks on his back during a medical examination. The crisscrossed marks extended from his buttocks to his shoulders. The image depicted the brutality of slavery which caused an uproar with thousands of white folks and was one of the many catalysts of the abolition movement during the Civil War.
He enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops Civil War unit
Sergeant Peter bravely fought in the Corps d’Afrique during the Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. He was one of 180,000 African Americans as part of General Benjamin F. Butler’s Louisiana Native Guards, made of freed slaves turned Black recruits.
The portrait of his whipped back had a wider influence
Gaining the name “The Scourged Back” or “Whipped Peter,’ two photographers McPherson and Oliver, took the photo of the whipped back and reproduced and distributed it as a then-trendy photographic format called carte-de-visite. Once the carte-de-visite technology became popular others who escaped from slavery posed for their well-known portraits too, including Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.
Truth used her proceeds from her cartes de visites that she sold to fund speaking tours and help recruit Black soldiers.