David Walker’s Appeal and the Fight against Slavery
David Walker was born in North Carolina, possibly in 1796 to a free black mother and an enslaved father. Walker was a forthright black abolitionist, unlike the mild white abolitionists of that time. He came with a steadfast belief that slavery was evil and had to be fought with words and weapons. He put his scorching views in a full length writing famously known as his Appeal in 1829. Walker said, “America is as much our country, as it is yours.—Treat us like men, and there is no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness." These words echo across eternity as David Walker was perhaps the most revolutionary writer in the early 1800’s. He wrote an “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” which condemned slavery and called for black people to rise up against their oppressors with war.
He urged slaves to kill their masters, and said: "Had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant?" Walker's publication sent shock waves across the South amongst white slave masters. Walker's Appeal for a war against slavery was circulated throughout the North and the South. In 1830, North Carolina's legislature was frightened by Walker’s Appeal and strengthened state law dealing with the treatment of slaves and free blacks. These racist laws would soon spark Nat Turner to wage a heroic war against slavery in 1831. Walker’s Appeal would inspire millions to wage a just war against the brutal system of slavery and would play a role in the fight against slavery by inspiring Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and others.
The Appeal brought forward the understanding that slavery and white supremacy ruined America and could only be overcome by war. Walker did not take his status of being a free black man for granted, but used his pen to wage a relentless war against slavery and the people that engaged in it and supported it. Walker opposed the idea that free blacks be shipped to Liberia, which was a racist scheme by the American Colonization Society to deport all free blacks to Africa. Unfortunately, the country of Liberia was established and set up free blacks who oppressed their native African brothers in much the same way as enslaved blacks were treated in the United States. Walker’s Appeal would live on in modern times with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Robert Williams, and the original Black Panther Party. Walker was known for his rebuttal of the racist beliefs of Thomas Jefferson and said, "Unless we try to refute Mr. Jefferson’s arguments respecting us, we will only establish them." Jefferson had made the ridiculous claim that blacks were inferior. His ideas came from racist Enlightenment thinkers that had already begun developing scientific racism to which Jefferson foolishly and ignorantly adopted.
Walker called for insurrection against slavery and his desire to see a rebellion was quite clear when he said, “Now, I ask you, had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little children? Look upon your mother, wife and children, and answer God Almighty; and believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man who is trying to kill you, than it is for you to take a drink of water when thirsty.” These words would inspire tens of thousands of black Union soldiers to raise arms against the slave owners during the Civil War. Today, blacks and others are arming themselves and his words may ring again if the violence against blacks by racist vigilantes continues.