David Walker: Unsung Hero In The Struggle Against Slavery
David Walker (1797?-1830) was a courageous and visionary African American leader and activist. He put his life on the line by publicly demanding the immediate end of slavery in the new nation of the United States.
Walker has had lasting influence on the ongoing struggle for equal rights and racial justice in the U.S. During his lifetime, he pushed other abolitionists to be more radical in their words and actions. And through the years his ideas have inspired many generations of Black leaders and activists of all backgrounds.
Walker was a leader in the African American community in Boston, Massachusetts. He is best known for writing and distributing a pamphlet called David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. This was a passionate call to his “afflicted and slumbering brethren” to rise up and cast off the chains that bound their minds as well as their bodies. Walker was an evangelical Christian. In the Appeal, he takes white Christians to task for supporting slavery and the savage and unchristian treatment of fellow human beings.
The Appeal was published at a time of growing resistance to slavery. Free Black communities were expanding, and slave rebellions were on the rise. Walker used underground activist networks to circulate copies of his pamphlet throughout the South. This distribution effort has been called “one of the boldest and most extensive plans to empower slaves ever conceived” in the U.S. before the Civil War.
Outraged slaveholders and their allies reacted with alarm to the Appeal. They destroyed any copies they could find. They dealt brutally with those found with the pamphlet in their possession. And they passed new laws against anti-slavery material.
David Walker died in Boston in 1830 at the age of 34. The official cause of death was consumption (lung disease.) Within the Black community, rumors persisted that Walker had been murdered, probably poisoned, by agents of Southern planters. His probable gravesite in a South Boston cemetery is unmarked.
-- Maria Stewart (1803-1879), abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and public speaker
-- Frederick Douglass, (1818-1895), abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman
-- W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), intellectual leader, historian, author, and civil rights activist
Contemporary Reaction to David Walker's Appeal
-- Kai Wright, Ed., The African-American Archives, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishing, 2001.
Sources: To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance by Peter P. Hinks, 1997, Pennsylvania State University Press; David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, edited with an introduction and annotations by Peter P. Hinks, 2003, Pennsylvania State University Press; Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston, edited by Donald M. Jacobs, 1993, Indiana University Press; One Continual Cry: David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829-1830): Its Setting and Its Meaning by Herbert Aptheker, 1965, Humanities Press; Boston’s Abolitionists by Kerri Greenidge, 2006, Commonwealth Editions; David Walker (abolitionist) – Wikipedia http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Walker_%28abolitionist%29