Emancipation, Will Smith’s first film since he slapped Chris Rock during the Academy Awards 2022, is releasing tomorrow, December 2, 2022. Many might not want to see the film owing to Smith’s violent reaction to a joke by Rock on his wife, Jada-Pinkett. However, the film’s subject is a person who went on to become a symbolic figure in the history of the United States’ abolitionist movement.

In Emancipation, Smith plays the role of Gordon, who is popularly known as Whipped Peter. A picture of Gordon showing scars from whippings he had received while serving as a slave, was first published in Harper’s Weekly. It soon became a potent symbol of the human rights abuse being unleashed upon slaves and served as a catalyst for many free African-American men to join the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Who was Gordon, also known as Whipped Peter?

Gordon was a slave at a plantation owned by John and Bridget Lyons in Louisiana. The 1860 US Census shows him as a slave of their plantation along with 40 other individuals. 

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He escaped from the plantation in March 1863. Gordon carried onions in his pocket, which he rubbed on his skin to fend off the bloodhounds sent out in order to track him. He crossed a distance of 40 miles in a period of 10 days to reach Baton Rouge, where Union soldiers were stationed.

While he was being examined at the camp, Gordon revealed that he was whipped by a plantation overseer called Artayou Carrier. He also added that he was in bed for two months following the incident. The overseer, according to Gordon’s statement, was dismissed after the plantation owner saw the torture he had subjected Gordon to.

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Gordon later enlisted into the Union Army as a guide, and was the first black man ever to lead American soldiers during an assault.