Lesson 134:
David Walker

An ongoing illustrative history study
This piece originally posted 8/7/2023

Prelude | 129 | 130 | 131 | 132 | 133 | 134 | 135 | 136 | 137 >> | Email

"Did I say in an unorganized condition? Yea, had our opponents their way, the very notion of such an institution might have been obliterated in our minds. How strange it is, to see men of sound sense, and of tolerably good judgment, act so diametrically in opposition to their interest; but I forbear making any further comments on this subject, and return to that for which we are convened."

David Walker, based on a purported (though disputed) woodcut of his likeness by Henry Highland Garnet.  Watercolour with some pen & ink, 2.5 in. x 3.5 in.Another biography certain to be hastily deleted from Florida's public school curricula: the life and achievements of abolitionist David Walker. Born in 1785 North Carolina, Walker's father was enslaved (who died before David was born), but his mother was a free woman of colour who later moved to Boston, where sentiments towards slavery were markedly different in the earliest years of this experimental new Constitutional Republic. Walker established a clothing store on Brattle Street and eventually married and had two children, and became very active in local civic affairs, aiding runaway slaves and contributing essays and articles to Freedom's Journal. Of course Walker loathed and despised slavery, but to him that wasn't nearly enough --such an issue demanded many loud voices, raised in active opposition. While the concept of abolitionism certainly existed at the time, it was piecemeal and not formally united nor organized.

Walker's September 1829 publication of An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World but in Particular and Very expressly to those of the United States of America changed all that.

Widely distributed throughout the Northern states and with copies smuggled into the Southern states (sometimes sewn into the very linings of the garments that Walker's store shipped), this controversial 26-page Appeal of course immediately came to be regarded as dangerous, seditious and subversive. Besides its call for a more united and organized opposition to the institution of slavery itself, many of Walker's passionately-expressed viewpoints were relatively new and untested topics; including the notion of making land reparations, the concept of Black racial pride, and forcefully debunking the then-popular assertion that slavery was perversely somehow beneficial to Black people. (Good thing no-one makes that silly claim anymore...) The Appeal also took white Christians to task for their role in condoning slavery --even passively-- arguing that such behaviour was not only inhumane, but also deeply hypocritical. Walker also argued against recolonization of Free Blacks back to Africa (a popular idea at the time), and frankly warned of armed slave uprisings and insurrections, frequently invoking Biblical terminology and similar epic-scale descriptions to drive the point home. He conspicuously made mention of the Haitian Revolution (still a touchy subject amongst Southern plantation owners), and even called out the inherent hypocrisy of some parts of the Declaration of Independence itself.

Some southern landowners were sufficiently incensed to offer as much as $3000 bounties for Walker's death; and in the case of Georgia, a reward as high as $10,000 to anyone who returned him alive back to the South. Circulation of copies of the Appeal itself became a criminal offense in some Southern cities, and while Walker managed to evade such threats and vowed to continue to publish further essays and address public gatherings, he was ultimately found dead in the doorway of his Boston home (and its adjacent printing office) in 1830. While the official cause of death is listed as tuberculosis (widespread at the time), there remains to this day speculation that David Walker may in fact have been poisoned. Fortunately the Appeal and its arguments persisted for years, influencing many future abolitionists (including William Lloyd Garrison, fellow Bostonian Maria Stewart, Henry Highland Garnet, and eventually even John Brown, who played a role in its widespread reprinting in the years leading up to the Civil War).

Anyway, enough prelude. Dive in and read the full text of the Appeal here, as indexed at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:


"Do not two hundred and eight years' very intolerable sufferings teach us the actual necessity of a general union among us? Do we not know indeed, the horrid dilemma into which we are, and from which, we must exert ourselves, to be extricated? Shall we keep slumbering on, with our arms completely folded up, exclaiming every now and then, against our miseries, yet never do the least thing to ameliorate our condition or that of posterity?"
    --from a speech by David Walker to the newly-formed Massachusetts General Colored Association in December 1828

Next page - Lesson 135: Henrietta Lacks

Return to www.petervintonjr.com Main Page