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David Walker (abolitionist)

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Walker's Appeal caused a stir among slaveholders and slaves. In it, Walker argued that armed resistance was justified and should be used if necessary. As could be expected, slaveholders feared that it would cause slave uprisings. Slaves on the other hand, were encouraged by its message. It was common for groups of slaves to gather and listen to the reading of the text. Depending upon whether one was a slave or a slaveholder, the Appeal had become both dangerous and inspiring.

Southern states were quick to respond to the Appeal's publication. Georgia and Louisiana passed legislation that made distribution of it illegal. North Carolina passed a law prohibiting slaves from being taught to read. In addition to the enactment of laws, a $10,000 reward was offered for Walker, either dead or alive.

On June 18, 1830, Walker died just months after completing the third edition of the Appeal. Walker's sudden and mysterious death caused speculation that he was poisoned, although there was no evidence supporting the allegation. Later scholarship suggests he died of tuberculosis, the same disease that killed his daughter.

Social impact of the Appeal

Handwritten original version of Walker's Appeal.

In the Appeal, Walker argued that African Americans suffered more than any other people in the history of the world, and identified four causes for their "wretchedness:"

  • slavery
  • 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's pamphlet called for immediate, universal, and unconditional emancipation-an uncommon position, even among antislavery activists in the 1820s. He openly praised slaves who used violence in self-defense against their masters and overseers, and suggested that slaves kill their masters in order to gain freedom.

Walker distributed his work through black civic associations in Northern cities and tried many different schemes to get the pamphlet to slaves and free blacks in the South. By 1830, outraged white authorities in the Southern states had begun a campaign to suppress it. In New Orleans, four black men were arrested for owning it, and vigilantes attacked free blacks in Walker's home in Wilmington. In Savannah, Georgia, the white authorities seized dozens of copies smuggled in by black sailors, banning black seaman from coming ashore at the city's port (Mayer 83, 84). Plantation owners offered a $3,000 bounty for Walker's death, and a $10,000 reward for anyone who brought him to the South alive.

The Appeal made a great impression in the South, with both slaves and slaveholders. To the slaves the words were inspiring and instilled a sense of pride and hope. Horrified whites, on the other hand, passed laws that forbade blacks to learn to read and banned the distribution of antislavery literature. Friends concerned about his safety implored him to flee to Canada. Walker responded that he would stand his ground. "Somebody must die in this cause," he added. "I may be doomed to the stake and the fire, or to the scaffold tree, but it is not in me to falter if I can promote the work of emancipation." A devout Christian, he believed that abolition was a "glorious and heavenly cause."

The Appeal was controversial even among abolitionists, and sparked debates that in many ways anticipated later debates over black nationalism and Black Power. Many white abolitionists, such as Benjamin Lundy, condemned it as inflammatory, and argued that it appealed to the worst passions of vengeance. William Lloyd Garrison expressed mixed feelings, criticizing the appeal to violence on the grounds of his religious pacifism, while arguing that Walker's call for violent revolution against slave-holders was the logical extension of the principles behind the American revolution, and that "if any people were ever justified in throwing off the yoke of their tyrants, the slaves are that people."

Legacy

David Walker gave hope and pride to black slaves and his objective was nothing short of revolutionary. He would arouse slaves of the South into rebelling against their masters. His tool would be his own pamphlet, the Appeal, a document that has been described as "for a brief and terrifying moment… the most notorious document in America."1

Notes

  1. ↑ David Walker pbs.org Retrieved December 14, 2007.

References

  • Hinks, Peter P. To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance. Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0271015798
  • Mayer, Henry. All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery. St. Martin's Press, 1998. B0000TNRHA
  • Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal. Black Classics Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0933121386

External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2017.

  • Walker's Appeal at Documenting the American South.
  • Works by David Walker. Project Gutenberg
  • David Walker www.pbs.org.

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