see also: Walker's Appeal

Seminal but currently lesser-known 1829 pamphlet advocating black rights.

David Walker (c. 1796-1830), a poor black Bostonian, was born free in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was both a Methodist and Mason, and was friends with antislavery preacher Samuel Snowden (who came to join forces with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Walker helped establish the black periodical Freedom's Journal and is thought to have played a key role in the establishment of one of the first self-described black political organizations in the United States, the Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA).

Walker published his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World in September, 1829 (two subsequent editions in 1829-30 made minor changes, mainly grammatical and typesetting errors).

As the title indicates, Walker's Appeal is addressed to blacks, particularly American blacks (contrast this with Frederick Douglass's 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, which was solicited by and aimed primarily at northern white abolitionists).

Here's a representative quotation from Article I of the Appeal:

"Millions of [blacks] are this day, so so ignorant and avaricious, that they cannot conceive how God can have an attribute of justice, and show mercy to us because it pleased Him to make us black -- which colour, Mr. Jefferson calls unfortunate!!!!!! As though we are not as thankful to our God, for having made us as it please himself, as they, (the whites,) are for having made them white. They think because they hold us in their infernal chains of slavery, that we wish to be white, or of their color -- but they are dreadfully deceived -- we wish to be just as it pleased our Creator to have made us, and no avaricious and unmerciful wretches, have any business to make slaves of, or hold us in slavery."

Arranged in the form of a Preamble and four Articles, the Appeal makes, among others, the following important claims and moves:

  • In Walker's view, it is incumbent on blacks to exert themselves for their own freedom. They cannot expect white abolitionists to do the work for them. Blacks with education must work to educate their more ignorant brethren (a version of W.E.B. DuBois's later doctrine of "uplift").
  • He expresses confidence that God is on the side of the oppressed, and that white slaveowners will get their own back. In fact, various wars between white factions are evidence of God's displeasure. Meanwhile, blacks, "if we continue humble," will receive God's favor and rise up under the leadership of a new "Hannibal." Note that he does not mean "humble" to whites.
  • He argues from a variety of Biblical and Classical texts that American blacks are more oppressed than any other people have ever been, including slaves under the rule of heathens (this is a major point for him - that the supposed Christians in America treat their slaves worse than any heathens in history have treated theirs.)
  • He harshly critiques Thomas Jefferson's arguments in the Notes on the State of Virginia that blacks are "naturally" inferior to whites. He urges black people to read the Notes and write their own arguments to refute it. He recognizes the prestige behind Jefferson's name and the widespread influence of Jefferson's remarks in the general defamation* of blacks in America. He also suggests that it is not blacks but whites who are naturally uncivilized, pointing to violences and mercenary acts perpetrated by his contemporaries and by whites in history.
  • Walker looks at the racist argument that blacks are naturally inferior because they would rather submit to domination than die (the Hegelian description of the slave) and argues that blacks are not naturally inferior, but that blacks' ignorant submission is what is giving their detractors that argument. It is up to blacks to refute the argument by refusing to submit any longer. (In other words, "You pinheads, you're giving them ammo!")
  • Walker excoriates the arguments by major Southern statesmen Henry Clay and John Randolph, among others, in support of the scheme to settle free blacks in a colony in Africa (present-day Liberia. He argues that the real purpose behind this scheme is to remove prevent free blacks from influencing slaves and making them want to better their conditions. He affirms that since exploited black labor has been the basis for American economic success, the free blacks have as much right, if not more, than any whites to live in America.
  • Walker calls for some form of national redress for blacks, conceived in spiritual rather than monetary terms. Basically, he demands an apology.
  • He refers to the Declaration of Independence, another key Jeffersonian text, both as hypocritical insofar as it contradicts the white Americans' actions toward blacks, and as possibly fruitful insofar as it supplies ideological grounds for a black uprising.

Walker often takes a prophetic tone in the Appeal, warning of a day when the American whites will "have their fill of us" and find themselves the recipients of divine wrath. He writes at the end of Article III:

"O Americans! Americans!! I call God -- I call angels -- I call men, to witness, that your DESTRUCTION is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you REPENT."

Walker's Appeal was one of the earliest important texts of American abolitionism. Because Walker refused to make any concessions to the frankly moderate sensibilities of most white northerners, many white abolitionists were uncomfortable with elements of the pamphlet, especially Benjamin Lundy, who in 1830 characterized the Appeal as containing "the wildest strain of reckless fanaticism" calculated to "rouse the worst passions of human nature." This caution on the part of the primary spokesmen for abolition during that period is one reason the Appeal is not as well known today as some later texts, like Douglass's 1845 Narrative. William Lloyd Garrison was also cautious about the Appeal, though he was clearly influenced by it in his condemnation of the American Colonization Society (ACS). In fact, one of the ways in which Garrison appealed to the black community in Boston in starting up his periodical The Liberator was to write favorable articles about Walker's work in the early issues.

Although scholar Peter Hinks writes that Walker died of tuberculosis in 1830, rumors that he had been killed by a secret Southern conspiracy flourished after his death. This opinion is also held by some modern scholars.

** I almost wrote "denigration," but my etymology radar beeped. Sure enough, a look at the OED online revealed that to "denigrate" is to "make black" - once literally, now usually figuratively, as in to defame (as above). From Latin "nigrare," "to blacken."

Source: David Walker, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, ed. with New Introduction and Annotations by Peter P. Hinks (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2000).

I noded my homework.

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