Black History: Special Delivery!!
David Walker (1785-1830), was the son of an enslaved father and a free black mother. Because his mother was free, Walker was also considered a free citizen. His freedom, however, did not shield him from witnessing firsthand the injustices of slavery. On one occasion, Walker witnessed an enslaved boy who was forced to whip his mother until she died. This experience and others throughout his life rallied him to become an activist and an abolitionist. As an adult, Walker settled in Boston, MA. Though Boston was a free city in the North, discrimination was still very prevalent there. Walker opened a clothing store in Boston in the 1820’s. He also began to associate with other black activists and abolitionists and became a writer for the first African American Newspaper in the U.S. “Freedom’s Journal”. Walker was also involved with the Underground Railroad providing clothing to those trying to escape slavery.
His pamphlet, “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World” was published in 1829. His target audience were those enslaved in the south. He relied on sailors who supported abolition of slavery to get his pamphlets into the south. Walker was able to smuggle the pamphlets into southern ports by sewing them into the linings of sailor’s clothing. Once the sailors arrived in their southern ports, they would distribute the pamphlets. Walker also sought assistance from other individuals in the South who supported his cause. The “Appeal” also distributed to various civic organizations in the North as well. Walker conducted meticulous research in the areas of history, sociology, philosophy, and theology to write the, “Appeal”. In the publication, Walker shared his thoughts that blacks, both free and enslaved suffered more hardship than any other people in the history of the world. He identified four main causes of their suffering “wretchedness”.
- a submissive and cringing attitude toward whites (even among free blacks)
- indifference by Christian ministers
- false help by groups such as the American Colonization Society, which promoted freedom from slavery, but only on the condition that freed blacks would be forced to leave America for colonies in West Africa
Walker unashamedly praised and supported the use of violence in self defense against slave masters and overseers. He also suggested that it was okay for slaves to kill their masters in order to obtain freedom. A devout Christian, Walker considered slavery to be a sin and he felt that God would eventually punish the country for it. The “Appeal” was, of course, very threatening to slave holders and empowering to the enslaved. Slaveholders feared that that rebellion and resistance among the enslaved would increase as a result of Walker’s “Appeal”. A campaign quickly mounted to stop the publication and distribution of the, “Appeal”. Blacks were arrested for possession of the pamphlet, guests visiting Walker’s home were also attacked. Copies of the pamphlets were also seized from black sailors. In Georgia, black sailors were banned from coming ashore. There was a $3,000 reward for Walker’s death and a $10,000 reward for him being returned alive to the South. Because of the threats, Walker was told he should flee to Canada. Knowing his possible fate, he still refused to leave and remained committed to the cause of abolishing slavery.
Walker’s activism and the, “Appeal” are viewed as forerunners to black nationalism and the black power movement. Walker was found dead in his home on June 30, 1830. Initially it was believed that he had been poisoned. However, later it was suggested that he may have died from Tuberculosis.
Sources: Thabiti Asukile, “The All-Embracing Black Nationalist Theories of David Walker’s Appeal,” Black Scholar, 29 (Winter 1999), 16–24.