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David Walker, 1785-1830
Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829
Boston: David Walker, 1830.


David Walker was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, to a free mother and an enslaved father. Some sources date his birth to 1785 while others suggest that 1796 is more likely. Walker was an outspoken black abolitionist, and he put his fiery thoughts to paper in his famous Appeal (1829). Walker targeted his emotional tract most specifically to free black northerners and southern slaves, but he also addressed northern whites and slave masters who would likely read the subversive pamphlet out of curiosity. Walker pushed for immediate emancipation rather than the gradualist approaches or colonization schemes of white anti-slavery groups such as the North Carolina Manumission Society. Walker saved his most incendiary rhetoric, however, for his southern audience. He urged slaves to rebel en masse, posing the question: "had you not rather be killed than to be slave to a tyrant?" (p. 30). Walker's publication terrified already paranoid white masters, and about them Walker notes "if they do not have enough to be frightened for yet, it will be" (p. 37).

Walker's Appeal circulated widely throughout the South and North. In 1830, members of North Carolina's General Assembly had the Appeal in mind as they tightened the state's laws dealing with slaves and free black citizens. The resulting new laws, sparked by Walker's work and fueled a year later by Nat Turner's rebellion, led to more policies that repressed African Americans, freed and slave alike.

Works Consulted: Hinks, Peter P., To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997; and Raper, Derris Lea, "The Effects of David Walker's Appeal and Nat Turner's Insurrection on North Carolina," M.A. thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1969.

Michael Sistrom

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