Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

16
THE NECESSITY OF A GENERAL UNION AMONG US

David Walker

The moderate, passive approach to slaves set forth in Cyrus Bustill's speech was shattered in September 1828 by David Walker when he published at his own expense his revolutionary pamphlet: Walker 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. More commonly known as David Walker's Appeal, the twenty-six-page pamphlet warned America that blacks "must and shall be free" and asked the slaveholders if they wished to risk having the slaves take their freedom by force. Should the slaveholder fail to respond, those enslaved had only one course to follow: begin a bloody insurrection against their oppressors. While Walker cautioned against such action until the way was clear, he rejected the idea of waiting for heaven to redeem the enslaved from under their "cruel oppressors and murderers." Walker stressed that so long as slavery existed in America, no African American would ever be accepted on an equal basis with any white man. For this reason every free African American had to support the overthrow of slavery immediately and by force if necessary, including insurrections among those enslaved.

David Walker was freeborn in Wilmington, North Carolina, and moved to Boston, where he was the proprietor of a new and used clothing store from 1825 to his death in 1830. (Whether his death was caused by poison administered by agents of the slaveholders who hated and feared him, as has been frequently charged, or was due to natural causes is a question that has never been answered).

Walker Appealis well known and has recently been reprinted in several editions. His speeches, however, are less well known. He delivered this address in December 1828 before the Massachusetts General Colored Association, founded in 1826 in Boston to oppose slavery and restrictions on the freedom of free blacks. Walker was a member of the association and was hopeful that it would serve to unite African Americans in a common struggle for liberty and equality. Walker's speech offers a fascinating look at the ways in which he sought to forge the organization and unity he describes in the Appeal.

Although Walker rejected the view that slaves should wait until God liberated them, he was a very religious man and believed that there was no doubt that once they rose up, God would be on their side. This religious influence is also reflected in the speech.

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