David Walker was born in 1796 or 1797 (some sources say 1785) in Wilmington, North Carolina. Having witnessed slavery and racism, he wrote an 1829 pamphlet, Appeal...to the Colored Citizens of the World..., that urged African Americans to fight for freedom and equality. Walker was decried for inciting violence, but also changed the abolition movement. He was 33 when he died in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 6 (some sources say June 28), 1830.
Writer and activist David Walker was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, in either 1796 or 1797 (though some sources say 1785, with some citing his birth date as September 28, 1785). Walker's father was enslaved, but his mother was a free woman, thus in following the state's laws, he inherited his mother's liberated status. However, being free did not keep him from witnessing the degradations of slavery.
Move to Boston
At one point, Walker declared that he could not "remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers." He left Wilmington between 1815 and 1820. He traveled the country—spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, which had a large population of free African Americans—and settled in Boston by 1825.
Not long after his arrival, Walker became the owner of a successful secondhand clothing shop. However, even in Boston, he continued to note the effects of discrimination, such as African Americans not being allowed to serve on juries and their children having to attend inferior schools.
Walker became involved with the Massachusetts General Colored Association, an organization opposed to slavery and racism. He began to share his views in speeches and by serving as a Boston agent for Freedom’s Journal, which was the country's first newspaper that was owned and managed by African Americans.
In 1829, Walker published a pamphlet entitled 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. Over the course of more than 70 pages, he used references within the Bible and the Declaration of Independence to passionately argue against slavery and discrimination.
Two more editions of Walker's Appeal were printed in 1830. As its message spread, some abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison, denounced the violence advocated in some of its passages. However, Walker stood by his position, believing that his support of violence was a means for enslaved people to regain their humanity, not as a reprisal tactic. With the end of slavery and discrimination in America, Walker envisioned "no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness together."
From his clothing shop, Walker may have sewn pamphlets into the linings of sailors' clothes, relying on sympathetic agents to distribute the papers in the South. The existence and circulation of these pamphlets alarmed enslavers. Many Southern states proceeded to outlaw the sharing of antislavery materials and made it illegal to teach the enslaved to read and write.
Death and Legacy
With the controversy concerning Walker's pamphlet growing—a reward had been offered for his death—friends urged him to move to Canada. He refused. When Walker was found dead in Boston circa August 6 (some sources say June 28), 1830, many assumed that he had been poisoned (in fact, he may have succumbed to tuberculosis, which had also killed his daughter). City records state that he was 33 when he died.
Walker's actions changed the tone and aims of the abolition movement. Most abolitionists had supported the gradual phasing out of slavery, but Walker declared that the institution was a scourge that required immediate elimination. And instead of supporting the return of freed enslaved people to Africa, he believed that every African American had the right to be a full and equal citizen of the United States. His fiercely argued views would affect and inspire others for years to come.
- Name: David Walker
- Birth Year: 1796
- Birth State: North Carolina
- Birth City: Wilmington
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: In 1829, African American abolitionist David Walker wrote an incendiary pamphlet that argued for the end of slavery and discrimination in the United States.
- Politics and Government
- Journalism and Nonfiction
- Civil Rights
- Interesting Facts
- After his Appeal was published, a $1,000 reward was offered for David Walker's death, and $10,000 was promised if he could be captured alive.
- Death Year: 1830
- Death date: August 6, 1830
- Death State: Massachusetts
- Death City: Boston
- Death Country: United States
We strive for accuracy and fairness.If you see something that doesn't look right,contact us!
- Article Title: David Walker Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/activists/david-walker
- Access Date:
- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: September 24, 2020
- Original Published Date: April 2, 2014
- You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you. And wo, wo will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting.
- 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?
- 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.
- We must remember that humanity, kindness and the fear of the Lord, does not consist in protecting devils...
- Having travelled over a considerable portion of these United States, and having, in the course of my travels, taken the most accurate observations of things as they exist—the result of my observations has warranted the full and unshaken conviction, that we, (coloured people of these United States,) are the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived since the world began.
- America is more our country, than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears. The greatest riches in all America have arisen from our blood and tears—and will they drive us from our property and homes, which we have earned with our blood?
- Treat us like men, and there is no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness together.
- I cannot remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers.